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IOWA CITY — Backdropped by last year’s elimination of men’s gymnastics and this year’s expansion of female athletics opportunities with the addition of women’s wrestling, the University of Iowa is seeking permission to build a $7 million to $9 million women’s gymnastics and spirit squad training center.
UI officials are asking for Board of Regents permission to construct a 30,000-square-foot training center for the UI women’s gymnastics team and spirit squad south of the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex.
Funding for the project would come from UI Athletic Department gifts and support a Hawkeye women’s gymnastics program that has “been a consistent top-25 team and begins the 2021 season ranked 17th in the nation,” according to regent documents.
The UI women’s gymnastics program — like the Hawkeye men’s gymnastics team before it was eliminated after last season — trains in the historic Field House, just west of the Iowa River.
“The retrofitted basketball gymnasium was renovated in 2015 to construct foam pits for safety, but the space is limited and not expandable,” according to the UI request of regents. “The Field House location has many deficiencies including limited gym space, inadequate locker room and restroom facilities, and limited temperature and humidity controls.”
Plus, according to the request, the Field House doesn’t contain appropriate facilities for strength and conditioning or training and recovery.
“A dedicated space designed specifically for gymnastics is desired to provide the facilities that are commensurate with a top-tier program,” according to board documents.
The two-story facility would include gymnastics practice space, equipment, locker rooms, a team room, coach’s office and multipurpose viewing room. It also would include space for the UI Spirit Squad, involving Iowa cheerleaders, the Iowa Dance Team and the Herky mascot.
“These three teams represent the black and gold, not only at Kinnick Stadium and Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but around the campus and the nation,” UI officials state.
Strength and conditioning training spaces in the new center could be shared by other sports programs, according to the request — which does not include a proposed timeline for the project.
UI Athletics last year — looking at a deficit in the tens of millions from the pandemic — announced plans to eliminate four programs: men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis and men’s gymnastics.
The university backtracked on cutting women’s swimming and diving after some of the athletes sued the school for violating Title IX requirements that it provide equal athletic opportunities and scholarships to women. A judge ruled they were likely to prevail.
As part of a settlement in that lawsuit, the university not only agreed to reinstate women’s swimming and hire a Title IX monitor, but to add a women’s sport — namely wrestling.
Despite a groundswell of advocates pushing for UI to change course on the men’s cuts as well — raising millions in commitments to keep the programs going — the university has denied those requests, calling the eliminations final.
The eighth-ranked Hawkeye men’s gymnastics team in its final season in the spring finished third at the 2021 Big Ten Championships — its best finish in 15 years.
The Board of Regents will consider the project request at its meeting next week.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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