Community garden may need to give way to hockey field

Olympos' renovation is a complex puzzle

Sportcentrum Olympos
Photo: DUB

The building housing Olympos Sports Centre will be depreciated by 2028 and what is going to happen after that is a question that has certainly kept the minds of the members of Olympos' board occupied.

In 2017, UU President Anton Pijpers dreamt out loud of a sports accommodation that would be part of a lively centre at Utrecht Science Park. In his view, if visitors coming through the A27 tunnel were met with the sight of students and employees exercising, that would give the campus a much livelier image. 

But little was left of such ideas in the vision document presented last year by the municipality concerning the future of Utrecht Science Park. Moving all sports facilities to what is currently the sheep meadow and the Padualaan parking lot was deemed unfeasible. According to the document, Olympos would have to stay in its current location at the north side of the campus. 

During the discussions at the municipal council, it became clear that many parties were unconvinced about this part of the plans. They would only agree to the municipal vision if the city board could promise an additional investigation into the ideal location for the sports centre. A motion from the VVD party that insisted on this point was accepted.

Olympos' board also desired a well-substantiated decision. Director Cees Verhoef claimed that the exploitation of the sports centre would be mush easier to handle if it had a more visible location on the west side of Utrecht Science Park, not to mention that it would become more attractive to students from the University of Applied Sciences.

In addition, for years people have been wondering where to find space for more sports fields, which would be useful for the hockey and football players who currently have to tdeal with long waiting lists. One of the solutions proposes was to share the fields with the new international school, which is meant to be constructed next to the new RIVM building in a few years’ time.

Social cohesion
The new investigation was presented this spring. Its conclusion was that redeveloping Olympos, giving it a new building, and expanding the number of fields would all be best done in the current location. Plenty of things were taken into consideration. If the sports facilities would be put in the sheep meadow, next to the international school, the tram tracks would run right in between, which would harm social cohesion and general safety. Moreover, the cost of constructing new facilities there would definitely be much higher.

As a result, right before last summer, the Executive Board decided that they would initially aim to have a new sports centre and sports fields roughly in the same place as the current Olympos. Another factor that influenced the board's decision is that there were suggestions on how to use the other locations already. For instance, a parking hub might be created where the parking lot on Padualaan is right now, and the sheep meadow is meant to integrate a park that would serve as a green entrance to Utrecht Science Park.

Plattegrond Olympos

A sketch of the preferred scenario, in which Olympos would stay in its current place and a couple of extra fields would come next to it. They are currently investigating whether it is possible to achieve this scenario. The illustration comes from the Feasibility Study 'Sport at USP.'"

Not sure yet
As for the Olympos sports centre, the idea is to build a new sports building where the hockey field currently is by 2028. After that, it would be a matter of searching for options on how to create an additional hockey field and an additional football field, preferably two.

The preferred option that is now being investigated considers the possibility of adding two new football fields on the east side of the new sports building and two new hockey fields on the west side. The current football field will remain where it is.

According to the plans, the rugby field will be outfitted with synthetic grass so that it can also be used for football. As for the new hockey field, it could take the place of the community garden from the association De Uithovenier.

Henk van Dijk, chair of the gardening association, is not pleased by the idea. He claims that the community garden is Utrecht Science Park's, 'green lung.'" However, it’s not certain yet whether things will actually happen this way. At the moment, the university is investigating whether these plans are feasible and affordable. An answer should come early next year. 

UU Vice-President Margot van der Starre said during a discussion of a University Council committee about the Strategic Housing Plan that the university can also explore the possibility of renovating the sports building if it turns out the university does not have enough funds for constructing a new building.


Best efforts
The study highlights not only the field capacity but also Olympos’ desire to expand its indoor sports capacity. Director Cees Verhoef says the indoor sports associations also have waitlists. In his opinion, an expansion of the indoor capacity could be affordable if the university, as the owner of the grounds and the building, were to collaborate with the municipality and other partners. After all, the city of Utrecht is also dealing with a shortage of sports halls and fields. The question is whether such a collaboration could actually succeed.

But there are more pressing questions in this complex puzzle. How can people continue to practice sports during construction work, for example? And what if the seventy vegetable gardens cared for by students, staff members and former staff members really have to move? The university said that, if that happens, it will do its best to find another suitable spot but it cannot guarantee that it will succeed.

'Moving us away would be destroying capital‘


For De Uitovenier's chair Henk van Dijk, the forced move is not a done deal. Next year, the association will celebrate its 50th anniversary, and he says interest in the association is growing. 

Currently, around ninety members care for seventy gardens along the bicycle path behind the Vening Meinesz building, which then leads to the Olympos Sports Centre. “There are always waiting lists filled with UU students and staff.”

Van Dijk observes that the gardens, along with the nearby Botanical Gardens, form "a single biotope" for insects, birds, and other animals. The university’s own documents also mention the extraordinary presence of grass snakes in the area which is also known as the "armpit" of the A27 and A28 motorways. “This is basically the green lung of the entire science park.”

Moreover, according to the chair, the university has recently invested quite a lot in the gardens. In 2010, the gardeners had to move for the first time because a rugby field had to be set up at their location on Uppsalalaan. The current location was then equipped with a completely new ground layer and a water pump. “Moving us away from there now would honestly be the destruction of capital.”

The chairman is holding out hope that the university will consider other locations for the sports fields. In his view, there are options to do so on the other side of the A28, just past the tunnel towards De Bilt, or at the east side of USP, on the grounds of the Veterinary Medicine faculty, where he himself worked until his recent retirement.

If all goes as has been suggested now, and the university decides the gardens have to go, he’ll put his faith into a promise made by the university, which said that it assumed a "best efforts obligation". UU will try to find a new suitable area if that turns out to be necessary.

Van Dijk says new grounds should be made available before the current gardens have to be vacated. “People sometimes don’t understand how much time and energy it takes to till the soil before you can use it. Some of our fruit trees and shrubberies have only started to bear fruit now, thirteen years later.  That’s why it would be such a shame to move again.”