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Inside Look: Recreation centers

Building campus recreation centers to meet evolving student expectations
University Business, December 2014
  • Multilevel fitness: A glass curtain wall takes natural light to another level at the 52,000-square-foot wellness and fitness facility at Gannon University in Pennsylvania. The wall, which overlooks West Fourth Street in downtown Erie, highlights an interior renovation that includes new locker rooms, a new varsity weight room, and designated areas for wrestling, acrobatics and tumbling. The cost of renovations to the 1994 facility, completed in August 2014, totaled $14.5 million. Architect: Keith Russeau, Th
  • Architects made the most of the half-city block they had to build Portland State University’s multifunctional Academic and Student Recreation Center. Much of the six-story building has an open floor plan, with cardio and free-weight spaces overlooking a bouldering area. The design provides a unique view for students and a greater sense of community throughout the center, which was completed in 2010. The project cost $69.5 million. Architect: Yost Grube Hall Architecture, Portland, Ore.
  • Welcoming entrances: Bowling Green State University in Ohio focused on the “wow” factor when planning renovations of its student recreation center, originally opened in 1979. A new staircase installed at the main entrance provides better access to the upper and lower sections of the building. Construction costs were about $11 million, with additional project expenses (including furniture, equipment, etc.) bringing total renovation costs to $14.8 million. The project was completed in late summer 2014. Design
  • Architectural touches: The ornate lobby in the Trieshmann Health & Fitness Pavilion at the Freeman Center at Christopher Newport University in Virginia sets the tone for the rest of the multifunctional facility that is used for both athletics and health care. The neo-Georgian architecture seen around campus can be spotted throughout the Pavilion, accenting window frames and doorways. Construction on the facility, completed in 2011, cost $22.1 million. Architecture and interior design: Glave & Holmes Archite
  • Artistic branding: At Western Michigan University’s Student Recreation Center (which opened in 1994 at a cost of $32 million), activity extends far beyond the campus community’s use of exercise equipment, pool, the climbing wall and courts where students can be found playing tennis, racquetball and squash. The 240,000-square-foot, $32-million facility also hosts festivals, dances, 5K races and graduation celebrations. The university recently covered the tennis court with murals of fire and horses and words
  • Illinois Central College enriched its CougarPlex recreation center with accents in yellow and royal blue, the school’s colors. Branding can be seen in the center’s lighting fixtures, floor and furniture. Renovations and an addition completed in 2011 cost $15.2 million. Architecture and Interior Design: Dewberry, Fairfax, Va.; work performed in firm’s Peoria office
  • Striking ceilings: The Culinary Institute of America in New York began renovations on its student commons in 2014, with a project that added a central area for dining and recreation and provided offices for student affairs and student government. One of the building’s more striking features is the ceiling in the cardio room. Yellow paneling and an intricate light-fixture system are used to create a warm ambience in an otherwise utilitarian space. The renovations, slated for completion in 2015, will cost $26
  •  Features as decor: At California State University, Northridge, one can’t enter the student rec center and wonder what building it is. To encourage a fun atmosphere, a rock climbing wall was erected in the main lobby. Daylight harvesting was a key part of design choices in the facility, which earned LEED Gold certification. With construction completed in 2012, the recreation center cost $62.4 million. Architect: LPA, Inc. (Irvine); General Contractor: C.W. Driver (Pasadena); Project Consultant: WTS Internat
  • Sacramento State University’s $72 million WELL recreation center (short for Wellness-Education-Leisure-Lifestyles) was designed with community and space in mind. Its centralized rock wall serves both. The facility was completed in 2010. Architect: Hornberger + Worstell (San Francisco)
  •  Open air: University of North Carolina, Wilmington took visibility to the next level during the renovation of its student recreation center. Designers knocked down the back wall and installed glass on both levels so users can see what’s going on outside. Renovations were completed in 2013 for $22.3 million. Architects: Hastings+Chivetta Architects (St. Louis, Miss.), Bowman Murray Hemmingway, (Wilmington, N.C.)
  • Exposed insides: Denison University in Ohio expanded and renovated its Mitchell Center, first opened in 1994, last year for $38.5 million. The recreation and athletics facility houses a gym, field house and the Trumbull Aquatics Center, and one big new feature is an Olympic-size pool four times larger than its predecessor. The exposed steelwork of the ceiling adds an architectural element of interest to the space.  Architect: Hastings+Chivetta Architects (St. Louis, Miss.); Aquatic design engineer: Counsilm
  • Bring the outside in: The trees in the light-filled atrium of the $12.8 million Concannon Fitness Center at Providence College in Rhode Island make it reminiscent of a stroll outdoors. The entrance also connects to the Peterson Field House and Natatorium, the Alumni Hall varsity sports arena and gymnasium, and Slavin Hall student activities center. Architect: Symmes Maini & McKee Associates (Providence); General contractor: Consigli Construction Co. (Milford, Mass.)
  • Many of the activity options, including water polo and scuba diving, at the University of South Florida’s Campus Recreation Center are centered around its indoor pool. Renovations to the building in 2011 ($4.6 million) and 2014 ($1.7 million) included a pool upgrade with new LED lighting, environmentally-friendly salt-chlorine generation, sand filtration and new finishes. Architect: Canerday, Belfsky + Arroyo (St. Petersburg, Fla.) Construction Manager: Biltmore Construction Company (Tampa, Fla.)
  • Built in March 2012 for $57 million, California Polytechnic State University Recreation Center includes an indoor two-court area enclosed by a running track. Outdoor tennis courts overlook the California mountainside. Architect: Cannon Design (Los Angeles, Calif.)
  • The defining feature for Missouri State University’s Bill R. Foster and Family Recreation Center (completed in 2012 for $26 million) is a walkway which literally cuts through the building. The path connects the student union to the campus arena and arts center. Architect: CannonDesign (St. Louis, Mo.)
  • The University of Akron in Ohio’s Rec and Health Center, built in 2004 for nearly $26 million, houses a lazy river, bubble benches and hot tubs for student use. Architects: Moody/Nolan Architects (Columbus, Ohio)
  • The University of Minnesota renovated its rec center upwards. The $48 million center was remodeled in 2013 to house a total of five stories, adding vaulted ceilings offer more air and the illusion of more space in its additional 20,000 square feet. Architects: CannonDesign (St. Louis, Mo.); Studio Five Architects (Minneapolis, Minn.)
  • Colgate University in New York relies heavily on windows and glass to add natural light and a welcoming ambience to its $7.8 million Trudy Fitness Center. Also adding a warm touch is its sturdy wooden structure, artfully exposed along the ceiling within the fitness areas.  Architects: Centerbrook Architects and Planners (Centerbrook, Conn.)
  • The College at Brockport’s $44 million Special Events Recreation Center in New York demonstrates how branding opportunities can begin before students even walk into a rec space. Digital signage boldly proclaiming “SERC” acts as both welcome and advertisement for current and prospective students. Architect: King & King Architects (Syracuse, N.Y.)
  • North Central College in Illinois Residence Hall/Recreation Center is a result of combining two existing buildings. After $28 million in renovations in 2010, the structure now houses a 400-bed residence hall, which is wrapped around a 91,000-square-foot indoor recreation center.  Architect: Buchar, Mitchell, Bajt Architects, Inc. (Joliet, Ill.)

The contemporary campus recreation center has graduated from yesterday’s dingy weight room. In fact, at many institutions, the rec center serves as a multipurpose space, hosting celebrations on special occasions and promoting student wellness in body and mind throughout the semester.

The demand for an individualized experience continues to guide design. Students want the equipment to maximize their personal workout regimens. They also seek space to mingle with fellow students.

Dubbed “the acting living room of campus,” the recreation center plays a large part in college life, says George Brown of the University of Alabama, whose research interest is physical activity and holistic wellness among college students.

“It is abundantly clear the role these centers play in recruitment. They’re also significant players in retention,” says Brown, executive director for recreation at the university as well as assistant to the vice president for health and crisis planning. Often, campus tours begin or end with the campus recreation center, he adds.

Officials at schools considering a rec makeover should first focus on stakeholder involvement, says Chris Chivetta, president and partner-in-charge at architectural firm Hastings+Chivetta.

“Put everyone in a van and drive to five or six facilities to see their recreation centers,” advises Chivetta, who worked on the U of A project as well as more than 100 other rec centers on colleges throughout the country. This way, administrators can experience the changing dynamics and role of recreation centers.

Following are some features shared by many campus rec centers today.

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