Colleges and universities across the U.S. are demonstrating a greater commitment to student health and wellness through the introduction of new programs and resources that emphasize fitness and recreation. This includes the construction of major new sport and recreation centers—now becoming one of the most important stops on campus tours—that showcase a student-centered focus on fitness and a strong sense of community among students, faculty members and local residents.
In central Illinois, campuses are right in step with this trend, with several area colleges and universities opening new recreation centers that offer a host of sports, physical education and wellness programs. Bradley University, Illinois Central College and Illinois State University have all taken major steps recently to provide students with exceptional fitness facilities.
Supporting Enrollment, Retention and Student Health
At Bradley University in Peoria, the new Markin Family Student Recreation Center has become a popular place for students to work out, socialize and visit the offices and resources of student service programs. The building opened in late 2008, providing nearly four times the previous amount of campus space for fitness and recreation. Funded in part through an $8 million gift from Bradley graduate David Markin, the Markin Center features an indoor pool, two racquetball courts, a rock climbing wall, a bouldering wall, a multi-activity court and a running/walking track. Four basketball courts are available for intramural and recreational games, and a championship court seats 300 spectators.
“An upscale, modern, state-of-the-art student recreational center is an important part of the facilities at any university, but especially at a predominately undergraduate residential university such as Bradley,” says Bradley University President Joanne K. Glasser. “We are blessed and fortunate to have one of the finest college recreational centers in the country with our spectacular Markin Family Student Recreation Center. It is essential for the general health and well-being of our student body as well as Bradley’s Wellness Program. It is also essential for our extensive and very popular intramural and recreational sports program.
“The Markin Center has been an important addition to our campus tours and has had a direct effect on both enrollment and retention,” adds Glasser. “It is also the home for our very successful Late Night B.U. Programs—which are major non-alcoholic programs that occur monthly and run from 10pm to 2am. These programs use all of the Markin Center’s many facilities, are popular with our students, and are a major reason for the success of Bradley’s Comprehensive Alcohol Action Plan.”
“Prior to the opening of the Markin Center, we had about 500 users a day in our previous recreation facility,” says Mike Keup, executive director of campus recreation and athletic facilities for Bradley University. “Now we have 1,600 to 1,900 users a day. The center has had a significant impact in many different ways—we now offer 35 hours of group fitness classes a week, and we’ve introduced a “Get Fit, Stay Fit” program that challenges people to get active and focus on nutrition. The feedback has been tremendous. Our juice bar enables us to offer healthy snacks before and after workouts. The multipurpose design has also allowed us to host university conferences, social activities and other events. It’s become a focal point for our campus, and more useful than we had ever imagined.”
Illinois Central College has also shown its commitment to student wellness with the development of the new CougarPlex, set to open in late fall 2010. The complex includes a major addition to the existing gymnasium as well as a comprehensive renovation of existing space.
» What are the top ten recreational programs offered by colleges and universities today? According to Recreation Management magazine, the most popular programs are:
- Fitness programs
- Mind-body/balance programs (yoga, pilates, tai chi)
- Educational programs
- Sports tournaments/competitions
- Adult sports teams
- Individual sport clubs (running, swimming)
- Personal training
- Day camps and summer camps
- Aquatic exercise
“There is a great demand from students for facilities for fitness and exercise,” says Illinois Central College President John Erwin. “The new CougarPlex brings Illinois Central College into this century with respect to physical education, wellness and intercollegiate sports. It will also be attractive to the community, as it will allow us to offer concerts, lecture series and other events. The venue will seat 3,000 to 4,000 people, and there has been nothing like that previously on our campus or in our community to meet that niche. It will also have a strong technological base that will allow for multimedia.
“The CougarPlex melds into our campus athletic zone—the building has a prominent location and is surrounded by sports fields,” Erwin adds. “It’s been exciting for the students to see it go up. It also features sustainable design, and that’s exciting for our community. It has a green roof and a lot of glass on the western and southern facades to take advantage of the daylight.”
Erwin points out that the building’s broad appeal will include use by faculty members, for their own recreational purposes as well as instruction. “The idea of fitness and wellness is also a big incentive for our employees. They will be able to use the center themselves. There’s an area for instruction so that we can offer classes in nutrition and other health-related subjects. It will allow us to expand our academic programming. For example, students will be able to major in personal training and then seek the appropriate licensing and certification.”
Shared Space, Greater Value
In nearby Normal, a new recreation center will open at Illinois State University in 2011, ready to serve students and accommodate programs for the School of Kinesiology and Recreation. The largest construction project in the university’s history, the complex will include a fitness/recreation area with a climbing wall, pool, basketball courts, group exercise rooms, a weight training room, lounge areas and offices. Academic programs will be housed in an expansive instructional area with classrooms, seminar rooms, labs and an instructional gymnasium.
Through multipurpose design and modern programming, the new facilities at Bradley University, Illinois Central College and Illinois State University will help promote student wellness, enhance academic offerings, and strengthen the link between these institutions and their surrounding communities. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re impacting student health and wellness,” says Bradley University’s Mike Keup. “Our fitness classes and wellness programs are booming.” iBi
Thomas J. Seymour is an executive vice president with the architectural/engineering firm of PSA-Dewberry.