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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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June 29th, 2005
Otto Arena renovation continues
Shaping up

By Robb Murray

Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Come September, officials in Minnesota State University's campus recreation department may be deluged with students suddenly interested in physical fitness.

That's because by then, a multimillion-dollar transformation from campus eyesore to recreation palace will be ready for student use.

Otto Arena's renovation is part of an athletics facilities improvement program that began several years ago and included the construction of Myers Fieldhouse and renovation of the rest of its facilities. (Combined with the Taylor Center, MSU has seen about $43 million in improvements in three phases to its athletics offerings.)

During a brief tour, Planning and Construction Director Larry Kohanek and Campus Recreation Director Todd Pfingsten proudly walked through a facility that used to be drab and underused. Today, even though it's not complete, it is light years beyond what used to be.

"It's a bit of a task turning an arena into a recreation center," Pfingsten said.

Perhaps the most striking change is the main Otto Arena gymnasium, a room that used to be hazy and yellowish with an unforgiving hard floor and exercise equipment stuffed in wherever it fit.

Natural light now spills in from windows around the tops of the walls, and around the bottom where windows look out to campus walkways.

On one end of the new gymnasium is a feature that may become the facility's trademark. A giant, purple "M" towers over the three basketball courts and walking/running track.

On the outskirts of the track will be 42 pieces of cardio equipment, including treadmills, elliptical machines and stationary bikes. And on each cardio machine will sit a computer monitor hooked into the wireless network, so students can check their e-mail or surf the Web while running, cycling or ... ellipticaling.

Below the track - which is on the second floor and is about an eighth of a mile - will be weight-lifting facilities and a lounge area complete with big-screen television.

"The only thing it'll lack is beer and peanuts," Kohanek said. "But that's the way it goes."

Racquetball courts also have been remodeled. Instead of interior walls that are falling apart, players will use courts with brand-new floors and walls - including the Plexiglas entrance wall accessed via a hall way with a lounge area.

Remodeling the pool also is part of this final improvement phase. Pre-construction, the pool was, to put it mildly, ugly and difficult to get to.

When it's done - which will be a few weeks after the rest of the facilities - the pool will have a new paint job, updated walter-filtration and air-conditioning system and a new gutter to keep water that splashes out of the pool from coming back in (apparently a requirement). The bleachers will now include an area accessible via wheelchairs.

There are also new diving boards and starting blocks, as well as better acoustics that won't allow voices to bounce around the room so much.

Locker rooms for all athletics facilities have been updated and include new shower stalls, lockers and better access to the pool and other areas.

All but the pool will be ready when the first students return to campus in late August, Pfingsten and Kohanek say. Students can access the facilities for free using their MavCard. Faculty and staff will have to pay a $50 per semester membership fee.

"For our size institution," Pfingsten said, "the students really get a big bang for their buck."

A grand opening is planned for Oct. 1, the Saturday of homecoming week.

At A Glance

What did it cost?

$8.4 million. (Total cost of all three improvement phases was about $29 million. Combined with the Taylor Center project, paid for through a $14 million gift from alumnus Glen Taylor, improvements worth about $43 million have come to MSU’s athletics facilities in the last decade.)

What features does it have?

Three basketball courts, 42 pieces of cardio equipment, pool upgrade, large weight-training and stretching areas, lounge area with big-screen TV, new racquetball courts and locker rooms.


6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. when school is in session.

Who can use it?

Students, of course, can use any of the campus recreation facilities. They pay student fees for that right. Faculty and staff also will be allowed to use it, although they must pay a $50 fee per semester.

Other facts ...

It is Otto Arena’s first major renovation or upgrade since it first was built in 1962.

Construction on the final phase began in May 2004.

In October, officials from the National Facilities Institute will include MSU on its tour of a handful of universities in Minnesota.