Feature Article - July 2007
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Special Supplement: Complete Guide to Sports & Recreation Surfaces

By Dana Carman


UNIVERSITY FITNESS FACILITIES TAKE CENTER STAGE

Recruiting today's best and brightest students is no easy task. Prospective students have plenty of excellent choices when it comes to deciding what college or university is best for them, so educational institutions must continually differentiate themselves from the competition.

According to Tom Roberts, director of recreation and wellness at the University of Richmond, recreation and wellness facilities are in high demand among students, and offering state-of-the-art facilities for students can be an excellent recruitment tool, not to mention a way to improve the overall well-being of the students already on campus.

Roberts has been the recreation and wellness director at the University of Richmond for 19 years, and when asked how long he'd been working on the new 90,000-square-foot facility that just opened on campus in March, he said it was fair to say he'd been working on it for about 19 years. It's not surprising as usage of such facilities has increased dramatically in the past 10 years, with Roberts seeing a huge change in participation.

"In tracking our usage over the past 10 years, we've gone from about 10,000 the first year to 150,000 five years ago, and now we're getting over 1,000 users a day, sometimes 1,400 users a day, and we only have about 3,000 students," he said.

Obviously student demand for a new facility was high, and in March 2007, the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness was fully operational. The new facility boasts a three-court gym with an elevated jogging track, a wellness center with fitness assessment and massage therapy rooms, a two-level fitness center, two multipurpose rooms, a natatorium, racquetball and squash courts, a game room, and locker rooms and saunas.

"We tracked trends and knew what our students wanted," Roberts said. "There were some square blocks we had to put in place first: fitness equipment, a gymnasium for basketball and volleyball, multipurpose rooms. Those are some of the basic elements in any recreation center."

While some of the elements may be found in any other university fitness facility, one component that stands out is the attention focused on the wellness aspect of this center. "We're looking at it from a complete wellness perspective," Roberts said. "Students carry a lot of baggage, and a lot can help their stress that is more than just the physical exercise."

When you walk through the tile entryway and lobby into Weinstein, you're visually connected right away to the pool and fitness center. It was Roberts' intention to build a facility that is light and airy, with a lot of natural light streaming through to give it that "wow factor." As you continue, you have to walk through the wellness center so students are welcomed right into it and can take advantage of its many offerings, such as the interactive help center, blood pressure machine, body impedance machine (which measures body composition), computer lab, fitness and nutritional assessments, massage therapy room and health educators' offices. The center will also feature a "dial a nurse" station in the future.

The openness of the facility is something Roberts feels is a very strong component of its success. "Having a visual connection to as many activity areas as possible is optimal," he said.

Another component of that success was utilizing student input in the planning and design of the facility. "Students participated from the beginning," he said. "We had a planning committee of students, staff and faculty. Their job was to listen to things and consider them and gather feedback from other students. We also had open forums where we'd show students what we'd planned on doing and got their feedback. I felt it was necessary, but the risk is you may have one idea and they have an entirely different one. The real risk though is managing their expectations. For example, we didn't have the funds to build a new pool and they would have liked that, so you have to prioritize what's most important."