Design Corner

Fusion Facilities Confusion Resolution

By Janet Jordan

An emerging trend on campuses across the country is a new facility that combines campus recreation center spaces with traditional student union functions. Commonly referred to as "fusion" facilities or student centers, a well planned and designed student-focused center can effectively ease many issues facing institutes of higher education today, including tight and diminishing capital budgets and the need to recruit and retain students.

These facilities are viewed as complements to student life.

Studies consistently show that involvement in organized and self-directed sports, as well as physical activities, directly correlates to academic performance. Many studies also reveal that participating in these activities reduces students' stress levels. Students who engage in more traditional activities, organizations and programs, sponsored by student union boards, gain valuable experience and lifelong skills. They learn by contributing to community building, understanding organizational dynamics and gaining leadership traits.

Typically, public institutions fund student unions and recreation centers with money from student fees. Capital funding at private institutions may come from development dollars or a combination of fundraising and student fees.

The traditional student union is the community center for all members of the college family. Its financial success often depends on marketing the space and its services not only within the institution, but also to relevant academic events and to the community.

By its very nature, the student union is open and welcoming to all. Much of this environment is driven by retail components that include bookstores, convenience stores, food service venues and other student-orientated services like banks, post offices, barbershops and salons.

Planning Considerations

Before the design process begins, the purpose and security of a fusion student center needs to be defined. It is important to identify the everyday users and occasional guests of each facility and their purpose for visiting the center. This will positively influence the center's successful management and operation.

A concern about safety and liability is an issue for many universities. The challenge is the struggle related to areas that are open to the entire campus community, while also controlling visitors entering the zones only available to students, faculty and staff.

Whether the recreation areas are in a fusion facility or in a standalone structure, a single point of entry is essential for security and safety. The control point is often the main information desk for activity and class registrations. Workers at this desk may also issue equipment, distribute and collect towels, which may necessitate an adjacent laundry area with the required plumbing.

Function Considerations

Again, it is important to recognize the range of users and their purpose for visiting the student center. Ohio Dominican University's Bishop James A. Griffin Student Center has been open for two academic years. The two food court venues, Panther Grille and Cyber Café, were retail operations the first year. The student center is located across a major roadway from the main campus. In an effort to increase revenue and to attract more students to the center, the university included the Panther Grille and Cyber Café as part of the fees for its meal program. As a result, student traffic increased significantly during lunchtime through mid-afternoon.

The ODU campus administration also promoted use of the new center prior to athletic events. In the past, fans gathered in the center's large atrium to listen to the coach's pre-game pep talk to the players while cheering on their team. This pre-game ritual fostered a new tradition called the "Walk." Players now stroll through the throng of fans on their way to the basketball court or football stadium. This new tradition has created a sense of community between the fans and players.

ODU is focusing on athletics with a goal to move up to NCAA Division II status. School officials believe this will further enhance student life and the college experience.

Operations Considerations

Webster's defines "fusion" as: "A union by or as if by melting: as a merging of diverse, distinct, or separate elements into a unified whole."

The success of a fusion student center is far more than the bricks and sticks of the building; it is a collegial spirit of cooperation, the sharing of a vision and mission to encourage student's growth beyond the classroom through a sense of community. This means the professional staff must embrace the diverse purposes the student center serves, be willing to plan ahead, compromise when necessary and actively troubleshoot conflicts among themselves. The participation of student staff in the daily management and operations of the center helps fulfill the mission of promoting teamwork, developing working relationships and gaining life-long skills while enjoying the college experience.


Janet Jordan is an associate with Moody-Nolan Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. She has led the interactive programming component of the firm's design process for more than 10 years, working on community and collegiate sports and recreation projects. For more information, visit

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