UC Santa Barbara’s Fitness Center 2 — the large gym located in the Multi-Activity Court at the Recreation Center — has been closed due to ventilation issues since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a backlogged supply chain and a strenuous contracting process delaying the replacement, the university has now pushed its potential reopening to Fall Quarter 2023.
The Fitness Center 2 contains numerous squat racks, benches, cable machines and exercise bikes — and students have long awaited the reopening of the fitness center to reduce the crowding in the Recreation Center (Rec Cen) and Multi-Activity Court (MAC).
“It’ll basically double the entire capacity of the MAC,” third-year computer science major John Kimrey said. “I’m here six to seven times a week, so I really can’t wait.”
While students wait for replacement ventilation, UCSB’s Department of Recreation is replacing the flooring and bringing in new gym equipment, according to former Director of Recreation Jeff Huskey.
When the Rec Cen first reopened from the COVID-19 shutdown, the Environmental Health & Safety Department assessed all facilities for proper air flow. All areas, except for Fitness Center 2, passed the inspection.
“The [heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC)] units in Fitness Center 2 were not able to be restarted to the point of functioning enough to provide the necessary air turnover rates for that space,” Huskey said.
Air turnover rate is the number of times the total air volume in a room is replaced per hour. UCSB increased ventilation standards during COVID-19 to mitigate aerosol disease transmission in indoor spaces, according to Huskey.
Huskey said the center “is not able to reopen until either we repair [or] replace the HVAC units or the campus relaxes its standards on air turnover rates for safe occupancy of a campus space.”
“If you’re coming to the gym, you’re probably vaccinated. I don’t see a lot of people wearing masks as we move past COVID-19,” Kimrey said. “I think the campus should ease up on its HVAC policies if it means the gym will open up.”
Additionally, because of its proximity to the ocean, the entire ventilation system on the roof that feeds into the closed portion of the gym is completely rusted out and needs to be replaced, according to Huskey.
UCSB Design & Construction Services is responsible for the entire replacement of the ventilation system, including bidding construction projects to contractors.
“Under the California Public Contract Code, any university construction project in excess of $50,000 must be competitively bid,” UCSB media relations manager Kiki Reyes said in a statement to the Nexus.
All construction projects are valued upon total anticipated labor, equipment and material costs. Construction projects valued at greater than $300,000, like the Fitness Center 2 HVAC unit replacement, must be formally advertised to the public and usually take longer amounts of time because of the UC-mandated policies, Huskey said.
“[The Fitness Center 2] bidding process took even longer than normal because one of the bidding companies filed a complaint that the process was not fair.” Huskey said. “So the university had to go through the extended process of hearing that complaint out.”
Eventually, a company won the bid and was contracted to replace the ventilation system, but the specific brand and model of the standard HVAC unit used at UCSB is severely backordered, according to Huskey.
“The construction industry, along with many other business sectors, have been impacted by global supply chain disruptions as a result of the pandemic,” Reyes said in her statement. “Some equipment is difficult to secure due to high demand and manufacturer backlog and continues to be problematic.”
Huskey said the company expects to wait 24 weeks until the equipment arrives for installation, adding more time until the project’s completion.
“This gives us a target date of about halfway through the fall ’23 quarter of reopening the Fitness Center 2, if all goes as planned,” Huskey said.