1st Choice Centre sees rise in usage

Southern Alberta is finding another reason to come to the University of Lethbridge – the 1st Choice Savings Centre for Sport & Wellness.

Having now completed its second full year of operations, there is context to the facility's usage numbers and not surprisingly, they are on the rise.

"We expected it to be quite popular, however maybe not this popular," says Manager, Facilities & Services, Deb Marek. "We haven't really ever marketed the facility."

Despite ongoing construction, limited use over the summer months and repair work following severe flooding a year ago, the facility still saw a significant rise in visits over the past year. Even more noteworthy was the percentage ratio of community and student users, with about 45 per cent of total visits by members of the community.

"It's a given we'll have the students but to see that many community members coming in is very exciting," Marek says. "The facility was funded partially by the City of Lethbridge, so their expectation is that the community is going to use it and it's nice to see people are coming."

The increase in total member visits from the facility's first year is a healthy 7 per cent, much of that coming from community members, whose usage increased 14.9 per cent in the period from May 1, 2008 to Apr. 30, 2009. That increase is reflected in a substantial uptick in total memberships sold, an impressive 11.3 per cent.

The 1st Choice Savings Centre has also attracted some of the area's biggest events, both sporting and conventional. The 4A South Zone High School Basketball Championships have relocated to the U of L after years at the Enmax Centre, while the facility also welcomed the South Western Alberta Teachers' Convention Association this past spring.

"We're really excited to host some of the bigger events. It's very important to host community events and we found that a lot of the people coming in were seeing the facility for the first time," Marek says.

Looking ahead, the U of L will serve as host to both Alberta high school volleyball and basketball provincial tournaments in fall 2009 and spring 2010 respectively, an important showcase for potential students.

"That's our target market for future students," Marek says. "If we get the opportunity to show it to kids from right across the province, to show what programs we have and to show off our facilities, that's critical for their recruitment in the future."