By Colter Hettich, Features Editor
Some first year students fear weight gain, but ACU has a facility in mind that could make the “freshman fifteen” a thing of the past.
The ACU Student Recreation and Wellness Center, SRWC, will cover 100,000 square feet of two stories. The eastern section of the Gibson Health and P.E. Center, including the double gym, single gym and racquetball courts, will be demolished or remodeled. Sixteen parking spaces between the Amphitheatre and tennis courts will be removed to make room for the new center.
“We’re looking at the gaps in the total student experience, and there are some gaps,” said Phil Boone, assistant vice president for development. “[The SRWC] is the No. 1 priority of the 21st Century Vision.”
At its core, the Student Recreation and Wellness Center is a tool the university thinks will attract, recruit and retain students, Boone said. He said many incoming and enrolled students expect access to a place on campus where they can workout or play pick-up games of various sports; the minds behind ACU’s SRWC tailored the facility to student needs.
“Student use is the No. 1 driving factor in these decisions, and the two things students said the most were free time and court space and ample use of cardiovascular equipment,” Boone said. “Basically, you walk in and always have a machine available. That really is the goal.”
Recreation centers that students enjoy today evolved over decades. In Trends in Collegiate Recreational Sports Facilities, Craig T. Bogar examined the evolution process.
The University of Michigan constructed an Intramural Sports Building on campus in 1928. The $743,000 facility featured 13 squash courts, 14 handball courts and 3,000 lockers. The Intramural Sports Building is one of the earliest examples of an on-campus building dedicated to recreational sports.
Similar structures began popping up all over the country. In 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1971 allowed more women to participate in college recreation.
“On many college campuses, furthermore, physical education was no longer a required part of the curriculum,” Bogar wrote. “As the demand grew for recreation, the trend on college campuses was to build centers that were primarily designated for recreation.”
Although University of Michigan built its facility for $743,000, the average turnkey cost of a recreation center is $19.4 million, a $5.2 million increase from 2004. The 2002 Kerr Downs Research Report found that National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association’s member institutions invested $11.69 billion from 1995 to 2000. NIRSA members spent $7.12 billion since 2000 on 91 million square-feet of new and renovated recreation facilities.
Unfortunately, ACU is not exempt from fundraising difficulties. If half the funds can be raised for the new recreation center, the university will finance the remaining balance. The development office’s goal stands at $12.5 million, but plans have not been sent out for bids yet. The wavering economy has driven up the costs of many supplies and transportation, but Boone has seen the other side of the economic coin.
“Before, when everybody was busy, it was easy for them to say, ‘You want our work? It’s going to be expensive,'” Boone said. “Now, there are general contractors out there who want to do anything not to lay off their workforce.”
Boone heard of a school district in North Richland Hills that received bids for a new recreation facility months ago, but after re-bidding the project, estimates dropped 18 percent.
“We have a goal to try and secure $12.5 million by the end of December,” Boone said. “If we don’t meet that goal, the next goal becomes the end of January. If not, then it becomes the end of February.”
If the university can break ground this month, Boone believes students can enjoy the SRWC as early as fall 2010. Architects have informed university officials that assuming a normal year of weather, construction will last 18-20 months.
Current students look forward to using the SRWC, but officials expect prospective students will appreciate it as much, if not more, than enrolled students.
California State University, Fresno, opened its 92,000 square-foot Student Recreation Center in February 2006. Derek Walters, CSU’s Student Recreation Center director, told The Collegian that the center was almost immediately added as a stop on the tour for incoming and potential students.
“That really helped introduce new and incoming students,” Walters said.
The Collegian also reported “the $17.6 million center was originally funded by student fees and private gifts.”
Some university students in the United States have taken initiative to kick-start recreation center projects on their own campus.
In 2000, Sonoma State University students voted for a Student Union fee increase that helped cover construction costs. In September 2003, student leaders at Stephen F. Austin State University worked with the school’s Board of Regents to propose a $120 fee. The student body voted in favor of the fee, 1,237 to 263. Texas Woman’s University was able to build new fitness and recreation facilities thanks to a student-approved fee.
Bogar noted that, “at private institutions, student fees have been an integral part of funding facilities for many years; today, even state institutions have begun to assess student fees for recreational and fitness facilities.”
A student-initiated fee could not hurt, but the administration will exhaust every option before implementing or raising any fees. No matter how great the hurdles may be, the administration will not stop until the new recreational facility is operational.
“It’s not a matter of if; it’s when,” Boone said.