Feature Article - May 2020
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Create Community on Campus

Fitness & Wellness in College Recreation Facilities

By Rick Dandes


A recent project at Troy University's Trojan Fitness Center was the result of a student-led initiative. RDG's design for the new center offered a state-of-the-art space where students can exercise, socialize and recharge. The Trojan Fitness Center is one of the first buildings visitors encounter as they enter the campus. Designed to accommodate the fitness and recreational needs of both the students and the larger campus community, the multi-story facility offers vibrant and engaging spaces with strong indoor/outdoor connections. An open rotunda on the northwest side offers visibility into all three levels of the facility, while a grand staircase serves as a striking visual element within the facility's highly efficient design.

"The Trojan Fitness Center creates a home for the university's Student Wellness Program and serves as a place where students can come together in wellness," said RDG Principal and Architect Jack Patton "The building was designed to blend into Troy's architectural fabric. The graphic design incorporates banners, dimensional art, window graphics, wall graphics and signage to create an experience that embraces the entire student body and highlights the nationalities of students who attend the university."

The 78,000-square-foot center, which officially opened its doors in January, includes a multi-activity court, a basketball court, free and circuit weight training areas, aerobic exercise rooms, an outdoor swimming pool, a multi-level walking track and four offices. In other words, a one-stop shop for student needs.

What are some of the ways to use these facilities to create community for existing students, and attract potential students? "Every square foot of a fitness facility should be intentionally and purposefully designed," Sherrard said. "The connective tissue between active and passive program spaces should be looked at as critical opportunities to create spaces for social engagement and community, and rest, pause and mindfulness.

"We challenge ourselves on every project to create inclusive experiences that focus on being healthy, positive and engaging," Sherrard said. "University-focused branded environments, combining various hybrid programming options and integrating highly sustainable design features go a long way toward creating a unique 'sense of place' for students."

Braam described a most unusual site off the campus of the University of Mississippi in Oxford. "Universities have always been looking to create better value—more for less—and we've seen that trend for some time now," he said. "For that reason, I think there is a huge trend toward adaptation, rehabilitation of buildings. There is also an emphasis on sustainability. Reusing the building you already have is part of that trend. If possible, you want to modify, adapt and infuse an old facility with new life, and that's what we did at the University of Mississippi.

"The university president bought an old, abandoned industrial warehouse without windows," Braam said. "It was across a highway away from the campus, and they didn't know what they were going to do with it. And someone said why don't we make it into a satellite recreation and wellness center?"

The designers at HOK worked with university officials and "transformed this concrete bunker of a warehouse into this absolutely celebratory building," Braam said.

The Department of Campus Recreation opened the South Campus Recreation Center in August 2019. The facility provides opportunities for the university community to pursue lifelong well-being and, Braam noted, serves as a transformational space in providing University of Mississippi students a premier collegiate experience.

The South Campus Recreation Center is located at the former Whirlpool property. "When they bought it," Braam said, "I don't think they realized the possibilities of what they had."

A 98,000-square-foot facility, it includes several innovative elements, including a 6,000-square-foot functional training zone (4,000 square feet inside, 2,000 outside). The centerpiece of the facility is north Mississippi's only indoor climbing wall. There is abundant fitness space (25,000 square feet), three fitness studios, two basketball courts, a multi-activity court, walking/jogging track, a classroom demonstration kitchen and a convenience store.

Services for wellness education, outdoor programming and personal training also have dedicated spaces at the SCRC: Two fields for intramural sports, sport clubs and informal recreation are located adjacent to the facility, and the original plan to come online was spring 2020. A sidewalk links the building to the South Campus Rail Trail, providing indoor and outdoor recreational options for the community.

Administrative offices for both the Department of Campus Recreation and the Department of Parking and Transportation Services are housed at the facility. The facility serves as a campus transportation hub, with more than 700 parking spaces, service on the O.U.T. bus lines and shuttles to main campus.

There is ample parking space at the center, so students can stay away from the central campus and catch a bus or even stay a while at the recreation center before attending class. The facility brings in revenue by offering membership opportunities for faculty, staff, alumni and community members.

Think outside the box—think partnerships, Ohle suggested. What are some private institutions that would like to join the campus community? What groups can be incorporated into a facility as an outside operator? Think healthcare systems such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers and commercial fitness organizations.

Other trends in on-campus design, said Sherrard, include integrated information technology, interactive video screens and upgraded Wi-Fi. "Access to technology is only going to increase in demand."