Award Winner - July/August 2003
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Big Building on Campus

Recreation Services Building at the University of Central Florida


Imagine 39,000 college students trying to share 2,500 square feet of recreational space. You do the math. It's much worse than packing a dozen frat boys in a Volkswagen.

"The old space was horrible and could only fit about 25 people working out at one time," says Suzi Halpin, director of the Rec & Wellness Center/Student Union at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. "So the need was tremendous."

Without a doubt. Only three decades old, UCF is a relatively young institution by collegiate standards. Still, it faced the timeless challenge of the student population's needs outpacing campus facilities.

"It's all about funding and waiting your turn," Halpin says.

Well, recreation's turn finally came for the campus with the new 84,000-square-foot Recreation Services Building, only about 33 times bigger than the tiny, old facility. Now about 3,500 students each day use the new Rec & Wellness Center, with the average user working out about three times per week. A few students use it as much as a staggering 150 times a semester.

"There's a serious need on campus, and now it's here, and students love it," Halpin says. "It becomes almost a second Student Union. It's a really social environment."

In fact, by 4 p.m., just as activities are winding down at the Student Union, traffic at the Rec & Wellness Center picks up and stays in full swing well passed 10 p.m., with many users remaining until close at midnight.

"We'd stay open 24 hours, but we need six hours to clean," Halpin says. The building opens every day at 6 a.m.

Besides the obvious goal of improving the quality of student life, the Rec & Wellness Center illustrates UCF's noticeable shift from a commuter school of sorts to a more traditional residential campus, a real home for students. The architects and the university worked closely together on the project—and it shows.

"What you see as a result of the collaboration is a very usable, student-friendly space," Halpin says. "The usage numbers are very huge: about 13,000 unique [individual] users per month."

The design takes its cues from key architectural forms and existing materials on campus. Large amounts of glass allow views into and out of the facility.

"The openness of the building is very unique," Halpin says. "You can walk in and see pretty much the whole place. It's very inviting. People walk in, look around and say 'Wow.'"

At the entrance, a 50-foot masonry and glass cylinder house a 40-foot freestanding climbing wall, which has become signature element for the southern portion of campus. The building itself sports an easy layout.

"There's a nice flow so people don't get bogged down at certain spots," Halpin says. "There's good energy for people working out."

Another interesting aspect to the project: The students are the ones in charge, from handling maintenance issues to setting the staff schedule.

"The whole building is now student-run, from open to close, which is great," Halpin says. "We're proud of that."

"Simple and effective use of color, good visual variety. Wonderful interior-exterior relationship. Simply gorgeous."

—Michael Bourque

"The strong detailing and balanced use of materials make this project an exciting place for the students at the University of Central Florida. A strong sense of spatial quality gives the users and abundance of natural light and interplay between different elements within the building."

—Reed I. Voorhees

Submitted by: a joint venture between RDG Sports and Farmer Baker Barrios Architects

Size: 84,000 gross square feet

Project cost: $10.5 million

Quick tour:

  • Four-court multipurpose gymnasium for hosting a variety of activities including volleyball, basketball, badminton, dodgeball, floor hockey and indoor soccer. Permanent risers are incorporated at the end of the playing floors for socializing and spectator seating.
  • The entrance and main lobby at the upper level of the facility create a social gathering space. The central control desk directs and controls access to all recreation spaces, including locker rooms.
  • 40-foot high, freestanding climbing wall located in the Central Rotunda at the front lobby near the main stair of the facility, visible from both the interior and exterior and designed to be a major focal point for activity
  • Three-lane,1/8-mile track elevated above the main gymnasium. The track is visible from the main corridor through an ornamental screen wall and offers views of the gym activities below.
  • 11,000-square-foot, two-level fitness and weight area that offers both cardio and strength training with more than 180 pieces of equipment. Free weights are located on the ground level, segregated from the fitness areas with views to campus and the outdoor pool, deck and sand volleyball.
  • The Wellness Center provides students with access to wellness-related programs and classes, assisting students in developing healthy living styles that stay with them long after college.
  • Three aerobic studios, one dedicated just to Spinning
  • Cafe (serving smoothies and sandwiches) and an outdoor plaza
  • Administrative support offices

Associated Firms

Mechanical/electrical consultant: Tilden-Lobnitz-Cooper

Structural consultant: Walter P. Moore

Site design: En Site Design Consultants

Contractor: PPI Construction Management

Gym floor: Action Floor System, Action Thrust II

Track: Mondo America Inc.

Climbing wall: Entre Prises

Scoreboards: Daktronics Inc. and Colorado Time Systems

Strength equipment: Precor Inc.; Free Motion Fitness Corporation; Icarian; Medex; Avenger; Concept II Rowing; Nordic Trak; Star Trac; Stairmaster, a division of Nautilus Health & Fitness

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