A Look at Student-Focused Facilities
By Curt Moody
As an essential component of this process, the infamous college tour gives prospective students the opportunity to absorb the atmosphere, services and culture of the institution simply from the architecture of buildings, attention to landscape and green space, modern amenities, technological capabilities, color schemes, design and art. And more than ever, modern, cutting-edge facilities such as state-of-the-art recreation centers are proving to be "recruitment gold."
Current trends evident in campus cultures indicate that in addition to requiring modern technology and up-to-date resources for their academic work, students also need food choices, friends, fun things to do and fun places to do them in to create a favorable social and educational experience. A recreation center can incorporate all the valued elements—lounges, game rooms, food venues, facilities for passive and active recreation and fitness, meeting spaces, pools, etc.—into a single, accessible facility, making it an ideal "see and be seen" solution for incoming students.
Furthermore, providing spacious areas that boast modern and chic amenities and equipment create a campus beacon and social hub for co- and extra-curricular activities. Easily accessible space for group and organizational meetings, study sessions and interaction with fellow students generates a sense of community—enhancing the holistic development of students while combining first-rate learning with positive social networks.
Understanding the individuals who will utilize the facility is key to creating a recreation center that can serve as a strong recruitment tool. To save time and resources, as well as make certain that the facility will best meet the needs of the campus community, special considerations need to be factored into the design process. Essential factors include funding sources, facility staffing, size and location, specifically with regard to space, ease of access and how central the facility is located on the campus.
A feasibility study addresses all of these planning aspects and should be conducted to determine whether an existing, renovated, expanded or new facility is required to meet programmatic and other needs of the institution and its students. This insight can be obtained from surveys with students, faculty and administration, and collaborative meetings with designers and end users. Combining the results of these tactics with the insight of industry-savvy experts into a cohesive document should provide a solid understanding of where to start—helping to ensure the successful design, completion and usage of a high-quality and service-oriented student facility that aligns with the institution's long-term goals and capabilities.
Despite the initial funding expenditure of building a recreation center, the return on investment from this new or renovated student facility proves to be profitable. Attracting and retaining quality students to a campus is a competitive business, and by providing a fresh and innovative environment that stands out from the rest, a college or university can get a jump start on the competition.
A strategically designed recreation center is mutually beneficial for the student and the campus—providing students with state-of-the-art facilities while enhancing schools' future list of alumni and donors.
The RPAC (Recreation and Physical Activity Center) at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, is a prime example of an institution taking action on this knowledge. Designed specifically as a recruitment tool, the university's recently constructed student recreation center features well-developed areas and equipment to accommodate recreational and intramural sports programs such as stacked basketball courts, a climbing wall, indoor soccer fields, a fitness area, competition-size and leisure pools, a walking/running track, a lounge area and a juice bar. The facility also serves as a home for classrooms and labs that are PAES (Physical Activity and Education Services) academic spaces.
Boasting unlimited resources and ample area to socialize, the recreation center has become the focal point of activity on The Ohio State University campus and is also the first stop on the campus tour.
Additional evidence of "recruitment gold" can be found in Oklahoma State University's Colvin Recreation Center. Once an aging physical education facility, the center underwent comprehensive renovation and expansion—with careful attention being paid to match the updated building with the traditional, collegiate architecture style of the campus. With weight, fitness and multipurpose areas, a running track, a climbing wall, and an outdoor pool with zero-depth-entry beach and lazy river, the project successfully enhanced not only the services and programs offered, but also gave a facelift to the campus image. The transformed and picturesque facility is a must-see for any visitor.
Other campuses, including West Virginia University, Hampton University, Hocking College and Jackson State University, among others, utilize the same technique to recruit students. It's no secret: A fresh, modern facility portrays a college's ability to meet the dynamic needs of today's students.
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