Op-Ed: It's time for UBC to fly the Coop

The BirdCoop, with its $30 per-term fee and convenient location in the SRC, could be the ideal space for students to stay active and be social on campus. Instead it’s cramped, damp, crowded and has worse air ventilation than my lungs after climbing to the top of Buchanan Tower. As many first-year students sign-up for the Coop this month and marvel at the low price, they’ll soon learn the sad truth — we really do get what we pay for.

Only in this case, shouldn’t what we pay for at least have an air conditioning system that isn’t an emergency exit door propped open? Cardio machines go days or even weeks without being fixed, the towels used to wipe down equipment are few and far-between — when you can even find one that doesn’t reek of dried sweat — and the floor space for stretching could be advertised as an attractive nano unit after a quick a paint job.

If UBC students are Thunderbirds, why is our gym even too small for newly-hatched chicks? We’ve outgrown the BirdCoop — it’s high time we left the nest in search of greener pastures and far less green water fountains.

Other universities in Canada, even much smaller ones like the University of Alberta and Queens, have palatial fitness spaces — but at 0.15 square feet of recreational space per student, UBC has the lowest university ratio in the whole of Canada. Granted, we don’t totally miss the mark — our own Thunderbirds’ athletics sports teams have their own private gym and training spaces, and for the aquatically inclined the new Aquatic Centre shines as a beacon of light in a sea of construction.

UBC Campus and Community Planning

But if you’re just another plebeian NARP (Non-Athletic Regular Person) on a budget who wants to stay fit during school and not contract a strange fungus from exercise equipment or be constantly squeezing between two very gassy looking people on the mats, you don’t have much of a choice. Gold’s Gym is expensive and despite it being close to campus, it adds a good walk for students who are trying to squeeze in going to the gym in between classes. The nearest YMCA is on Dunbar, and residence gym spaces are limited to those who live on campus.

And while it is more than true that UBC Rec offers some wonderful classes in more spacious settings and that there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in intramural sports on campus, UBC’s gym space is abysmal at best and, at worst, detrimental to the mental and physical health of students. For a university that preaches the importance of mental health and living a balanced life, UBC has dropped the ball on providing a space on campus for that balance that is accessible to all students.

Yes, you barely need to pay to use the Coop, and yes, we should be grateful we have a space at all to keep our minds clear and our bodies strong. But for busy students who squeeze in workouts and can’t commit to a set recreational schedule or pay $100 per term for a class at the Student Recreation Centre, having a space where you can reliably workout without waiting half an hour for the same equipment Olivia Newton John probably used in her music videos seems like a reasonable request.

With the passing of the AMS referendum to collect a fee to be used towards a massive expansion of recreational space on campus in March, things may be looking up for the moment, even if UBC has yet to commit to its portion of funding for the project. But the fact that it has taken this long to secure only partial funding for a student recreation facility while upgrades and expansions of the T-Birds’ training and fitness facilities have continued seems backwards.

The new fitness space in the Life Building (previously the Old SUB) is slated to open in “early 2018,” but as the consuming humidity and pungent odours of the Coop close in around us, January couldn’t feel further away.

Fitness and wellbeing is important for everyone, star quarterback or not. It’s time for UBC to end the aimless walking in circles of weightlifters in between reps looking for a space and the constant waiting for the bikes facing the poorly closed-captioned CNN reports during the morning news. Spacious and comfortable fitness at UBC shouldn’t be as unlikely as finding a spot on the mats. UBC may be a place of mind but as of yet there is no suitable place to unwind.

Moira Wyton is a fourth-year student studying political science in the dual degree with Sciences Po Paris and is The Ubyssey's current features editor.