- Associated Press - Saturday, October 7, 2017

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (AP) - After taking over UW-Eau Claire's Bowling Club in 2015, former President Brandon Swim rallied his club members into returning for practice to the campus bowling lanes in Hilltop Recreation Center after a long hiatus.

Although not suitable for tournaments - the 12 lanes had been abandoned for more favorably oiled lanes at other locations - Swim called back club members to the campus bowling alley for practice on Wednesday nights, the Leader-Telegram reported .

“When I took over, I really pushed for us to use them,” Swim said. “Why, when we have a great resource on campus, why aren’t we using it?”

Swim’s efforts to revitalize the bowling alley, part of the Bowling and Billiard Center, were in vain, as the club was informed this spring the bowling alley would close.

Declining participation and years of operating in the red heralded the end of the alley’s era as a staple campus recreation, with deconstruction of the bowling alley already begun.

An indoor cycling and group exercise space expected to be complete by the start of the spring semester will replace the neon lights, flashing monitors and thunderous rolls that echoed from the bowling alley for more than 40 years.

“There’s moments where I’m sick, sick to my stomach because of it,” said Andrew Jepsen, director of university recreation and sport facilities and a Blugold alumnus who bowled occasionally at the lanes while in his freshman year of college. “It came down to students starting to see the numbers and dollars.”

Ben Mitchell, a 20-year-old criminal justice major and current president of the club, said he has witnessed the decline in participants using the lanes, despite it being open to leagues, the club, students, staff and members of the public.

“I do understand the decision,” he said. “With the decline in use, I could see the budgetary issues with that.”

Declining numbers, which weren’t available Wednesday, and budget problems were only part of the equation, with Towers Hall renovations playing an additional role.

Administrative offices in Towers need to be relocated and are slated to move to Crest Wellness Center. That in turn will force out some of the exercise machines housed there.

“We needed to find a new home for cycling and group exercise,” Jepsen said, noting the bowling alley was eyed for that purpose. He said although several places on campus offer such options, students have been turned away for lack of equipment.

Club Vice President Megan Jones countered that opportunities for that type of exercise still exist; meanwhile, students who enjoy bowling will no longer have a nearby outlet.

“That, to me, is a very disappointing blow to the university,” she said.

The billiards area, which features pool tables and The Lookout - an event space with room for live bands and dancing - will remain.

Some remnants of the alley could be used to decorate portions of the billiards space. For example, 400-pound pieces of the bowling lanes could be repurposed as countertops facing The Lookout.

“We want to celebrate that history and really try to find a unique way to display it throughout the facility,” Jepsen said.

Student involvement was key in the decision to remove the lanes in Hillcrest, which was built in 1969, Jepsen said.

A recreation advisory council, comprising about 15 students within the recreation department, began a 1½-year discussion about how to respond to the alley’s deficit, eventually settling on a recommendation to remove it.

“At the end of the day, this is their money,” Jepsen said of the students.

That recommendation went before executive members of the Student Senate last year for approval.

Deconstruction of the lanes began this summer, with that portion of the Hillcrest building boarded up to close off access.

Four lanes have so far been removed, exposing the cement underneath. Lane gutters are gone, and so are the electronic displays and ball return machines. The pits and the wall behind them have been stripped out to reveal a storage and maintenance area.

The club has become entirely competitive with the loss of the bowling alley and now practices at Wagner’s Lanes, which offers the club a slight discount to bowl at its location.

Additionally, the club was given extra funds to help pay for the change in facilities, especially due to the increased cost in transportation, Mitchell said.

Jepsen said a cost estimate for the project isn’t yet known, but funding for it will be supplied through the recreation and housing departments’ budgets.

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Information from: Leader-Telegram, https://www.leadertelegram.com/

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