Clubs housed in Anna Hiss Gym worry about remodeling, while UT says no changes will be made soon

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A social dance class practices in Anna Hiss Gymnasium on Thursday afternoon. The university is considering repurposing the building, which could affect various organizations as well as the history of the building.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The possibility of losing space for practice and rehearsal in Anna Hiss Gymnasium has left some student organizations worried about their future.

University Operations spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon said the gym is undergoing a routine building assessment to evaluate other potential uses for the facility. Weldon said if the building were to be repurposed, it would not happen immediately, and the historical significance of the building would be taken into serious consideration.

The gym, built in 1931, is used by Recreational Sports and the department of kinesiology and health education, as well as various student organizations including UT Archery, Texas Ballroom and several other dance, martial arts and service organizations. The gym also hosts student organization events.

Sarah Sible, history senior and Texas Ballroom secretary, said the clubs that occupy the gym have heard various conflicting messages about the future of the facility.

“RecSports and UT faculty [said] that the gym would not be open next year,” Sible said. “They later corrected and retracted their statement and told us that the gym will be closing at some point, but not next year. I am extremely relieved that Anna Hiss will be open next year, but I am still worried about its future.”

Archery club adviser James Corral, who has been involved with the club since 1984 as a student, said moving the club from the gym will have a negative impact on the club’s future.

“At this point we’ve been told that there really isn’t a space on campus for us to practice anymore. There is an outdoor archery range we could use, but obviously that is not ideal in the wintertime, or when the weather is bad,” Corral said. “If we have to move there, we will likely have to stop training beginners and only accept advanced archers. There just won’t be storage space or an adequate facility.”

Weldon said Campus Planning and Facilities Management is only conducting an assessment of the facility, which will lead to open discussion of how to best use the space at the gym.

“The assessment is looking to see if we wanted to repurpose this to meet some future academic or research need, could we do it and still respect historical integrity of that building,” Weldon said.

The gym was a major achievement of Anna Hiss, who was the University’s director of physical training for women from 1921 to 1956. She spent her own money touring gymnasiums across the country over 10 years to compile ideas and plans, which she then used to assist the building’s architects and convince the University to fund the building. Hiss also helped found the women’s intramural sports programs at UT and co-founded the Orange Jackets. 

The gym was named for Hiss in 1974. Women’s head athletics director Chris Plonsky said whatever happens to the gym, Hiss’ legacy will remain significant.

“Although she supported women getting more involved in sports and doing physical activities, her main objective was always education,” Plonsky said. “As long as that is still the purpose of the space, it still honors her.”

Randall Ford, associate director of Recreational Sports, said the clubs and organizations will continue to be notified about the assessment process, and if the building is repurposed, the clubs will be transitioned to a new space. 

Ford said this was a particular concern for the UT Archery club, which currently uses an indoor archery range in the basement of the gym. The archery range has been at the gym since the 1970s.

“We’re waiting for what the University decides,” Ford said. “If they decide that a different purpose for Anna Hiss would be best for the campus, we would be completely supportive of that.”

Corral said the University considers bows and arrows to be weapons and enforces specific storage guidelines, which limit possible replacement locations. 

“It’s not pretty but it’s perfect, at least for us,” Corral said. “As far as the future goes, if we have to find a new space, we’re working with RecSports to see if we can find a place that meets some of our needs. If it covers 80 percent of what we need to practice, we’ll take it.”