Thirty years ago, recreation was decidedly low-tech. Computer technology was in its infancy. And students weren't as body-conscious as they are nowadays. The most "high-tech" of college workout facilities sported stationary weight machines, rowing machines, and free weights.

Today, it's a much different story. Students expect their universities to provide state-of-the-art equipment to help them in the pursuit of fitness: elliptical cross trainers, exercise steppers, and ergometer bikes, to name a few.

To update their campus's workout facilities, officials at the University of Texas at Arlington decided to convert the university's 9,000-sq-ft gymnastics facility, originally designed in 1973, to a state-of-the-art fitness facility. The former open gym now houses an elevated running track, weight area, and 50 cardio machines. Twenty-five of them have individual television screens with access to more than 60 cable channels. The designers seemed to have thought of everything.

Well, not quite everything. What they didn't take into account was the HVAC problem that presented itself on really warm days.

Doug Kuykendall is the director of recreational sports for the university. "On a good night we get 250 to 300 students working out at one time," said Kuykendall. "As you can imagine, it gets pretty warm down here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area during the school year.

"The facility has no windows, and our A/C units aren't designed to handle the body heat generated by that many students working out at one time. We had an air movement problem. It was stifling in here."

Kuykendall explained that to keep air moving in the facility, building managers bought floor fans. "The little fans really didn't do the job. There were too many of them, they were noisy, and they really didn't do what we'd hoped they would.

"Our job is to get as many students using the facility as possible," said Kuykendall, "making it a comfortable place for them to workout was our goal."

Instead of replacing the A/C units, Kuykendall and the HVAC supervisor looked into other options, including high-velocity/low-speed fans, and in particular, units from Big Ass Fans (Lexington, KY).

The University of Texas at Arlington converted its 9,000-sq-ft gymnastics facility into a state-of-the-art fitness facility, but with no windows and the HVAC equipment not designed to handle the body heat generated by 300 students working out at once, the facility had an air movement problem. High-velocity/low-speed fans cleared the air.

Big Fans, Big Air Movement

The company is known for its unusual moniker and its unusual product: large-diameter fans, from 6 ft to 24 ft, which spin slowly and move big quantities of air through big spaces.

The physics behind the fans is simple. Ten hollow aluminum blades, sporting a trailing flap called a wickerbill, rotate slowly at the ceiling. The wickerbill design creates 50% more air movement than conventional fan blades. Each fan creates a column of air that's pushed down to the floor where it radiates outward. As the jet of air moves along the floor, it hits walls, partitions, or another column of air generated by another fan. From there it's pushed upward to the ceiling and down through the fan's blades. This movement creates convection-like air currents and a cooling breeze throughout the facility.

The two 14-ft fans, said Kuykendall, are doing the trick. "We meet with the student advisory council to update them on what we're doing and find out what they want to do. We let them in on what's happening. I'm a fifty-four year old guy, and I need to run a program for 18 to 22 year olds. Their input is absolutely vital."

The Illusion of Cool

Fans don't lower a room's temperature, but they do make people feel cooler by speeding up the evaporation of sweat off the skin. Big Ass Fans claims that research shows that the cooling breeze from its fans can reduce effective temperature by 6°to 12°F. A single 20-ft fan requires only a 1.5 hp motor with gear reducer. The price averages out to about $.05/hr in electricity to operate each fan, according to the company.

It's too soon to tell if the University of Texas will save on its energy bills, although Kuykendall thinks the fans will prove themselves. "Energy efficiency isn't really what we were looking for, but if it happens, that's great," said Kuykendall. "Our goal was to keep the students coming into the facility and being as comfortable as they could be."

And how do the students feel about the new fans? "They love them," said Kuykendall. "When they first came in after the fans were installed, they'd ask what was going on. They thought the fans were neat looking. They really appreciate how much cooler the facility feels."ES