For years, a lack of recreational resources has confined University of Minnesota students, faculty and staff to a 30-minute time limit while working out on campus treadmills and elliptical machines.
A new addition to the University Recreation and Wellness Center more than doubles the space available and should cut down on wait times. With the expansion, the University is catching up to its Big Ten counterparts and aiming to attract new students.
Jim Turman, director of University Recreation and Wellness, said the quality of exercise facilities is one of the things students consider when choosing a college.
“It’s become a huge recruitment tool,” he said.
The original recreation center, or the “North Building,” is about 125,000 square feet, while the new “South Building” adds about 175,000 square feet to the complex, Turman said.
“There just wasn’t enough space … for how many undergraduate and graduate students we had here on campus,” said Brad Hunt, director of marketing and communications for URW.
The new space features weight training and cardio machines, seven multi-purpose rooms, an elevated track and a hydro-massage station.
URW, which was formerly called the Department of Recreational Sports, now manages the new center.
“It’s not just sports here,” Hunt said.
Big Ten comparisons
One of the main reasons students cite for not working out, Turman said, is overcrowding. Historically, the University has been on the low end of the Big Ten for recreational space per student.
For example, in 2008 the University had 6.8 square feet of recreational space per student. The average in the Big Ten was almost double that.
With the expansion, the hope is to encourage more student participation, Turman said. In spite of overcrowding, more than 70 percent of students are currently involved in University recreation.
Before a 2008 renovation to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recreation center, student use was also about 70 percent. But now that number has increased to about 90 percent, said Erik Riha, the lead assistant director of marketing for Campus Recreation.
The University of Iowa also opened a new recreation center in 2010 after identifying a need for space, said David Grady, associate vice president and dean of students.
Grady said the new recreation center is one of the things potential students take into account when considering Iowa.
“It’s the quality of life facility on campus,” he said.
Costs and future plans
Students paid for the nearly $60 million expansion of the University of Minnesota recreation center through the Capital Enhancement fee, Turman said.
The fee, which the Board of Regents approved in 2008, is charged each semester to Twin Cities students who pay the student services fee. For fall semester 2013, it totaled $75.
Focus groups with students and other research revealed that students were interested in more recreational space and were willing to pay for it, Turman said.
But the new South Building is just the first step.
“I think we’re getting close to right-sizing our facilities to this institution,” Turman said. “But we’re still short of indoor space.”
URW is planning the construction of another recreation center on the University’s West Bank. For those students, Turman said, it’s difficult to work out on campus because of the travel time to East Bank facilities.
“That population is not being served well at all,” he said.
Some students were impressed by the University’s new space after seeing it for the first time.
“It seems like a nice place,” said computer science freshman Lucas Meyers, who was able to enjoy the expansion along with other freshmen during Welcome Week. He said the new addition houses a surprising amount of equipment.
Still, Meyers said he’d already been planning to work out at school and wouldn’t necessarily do so more often because of the expansion.
Exercise can release endorphins that help students calm down and manage stress, said Katie Kasner, a registered dietitian for Boynton Health Service.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults get 150 minutes of aerobic activity each week and perform muscle-strengthening exercises two or more days per week.
For psychology senior Hayley Bemel, the expansion will have a big impact.
After occasionally having to wait for machines to open at the original recreation center, Bemel said, she thought the expansion was needed.
And for her, it didn’t disappoint.
“I was blown away,” she said, adding that she’ll likely work out more often because of the new space.
“I think I’ll be more motivated.”