Celebrating the Wellness Center: A New Breed of Recreation Design

Posted September 2013

One of the driving current trends in higher education recreation center design is the blend of student health and counseling services with athletics and recreation. Traditionally, these services have been offered independently of one another but as institutions contemplate a more holistic approach to health and wellness, the boundaries between these separated campus services are becoming blurred. CannonDesign has been instrumental in helping institutions anticipate this trend and act accordingly with the introduction of numerous recreation and wellness complexes over the past couple years. Just recently, ArchDaily and Metropolis magazine asked CannonDesign Sports Leader Colleen McKenna to pen an article discussing this trend and highlighting the firm’s work at Spelman College, Georgia College & State University, Northern Arizona University, the University of Denver Colorado and other key universities around the country.

As McKenna comments, “today’s students live in the digital world and have more access to information than ever, utilizing technology and social media to educate, monitor and support their personal health goals. Whether they actually hit the gym daily is debatable, but they do recognize the importance of developing healthy habits, and they seek guidance, institutional resources and facilities to achieve their personal health goals. Attracting students is the lifeline of institutions, and, like it or not, a state-of-the-art wellness and recreation center can be a meaningful differentiator.”

Those with an interest should take time to read the ArchDaily piece in full and learn how these forward-thinking institutions are evolving their recreational offerings to help students. Below are informative summaries of key projects embracing this trend.

The 105,000 sf Georgia College & State University (GCSU), Student Wellness & Recreation Center combines student recreation, health and counseling services along with collegiate athletics in a highly visible “gateway” building at the campus’ west edge. A need to grow its recreation and wellness programming to meet current and projected participation levels drove GCSU decision-making related to the project. The result is a beacon for wellness on the campus that helps GCSU distinguish itself from its peers. (In association with Menefee Architecture.)

At Spelman College, a renewed focus on fitness and wellness is a result of the college’s dramatic decision to become the second school to leave the NCAA in the past decade and eliminate its intercollegiate athletics program to increase recreation funding. President of Spelman College Beverly Daniel Tatum made the decision after recognizing a disproportionate amount of funding was devoted to the school’s athletics budget. Tatum’s decision was initially met with mixed reaction, but Spelman’s wellness revolution has picked up steam. The school has teamed with CannonDesign and MenefeeArchitecture to develop a 56,000 sf renovation and addition to Read Hall to support this revolution.

“We believe Spelman’s Wellness Revolution will help our students realize their greatest potential and lifelong wellness, ultimately transforming the future health of black women and the communities they represent,” says President Tatum. “One of Spelman’s first steps in helping the Revolution take root is to modernize our existing fitness facility, Read Hall, built in 1950 for 500, with a new, state-of-the art facility to adequately serve our approximately 2,100 students and more than 600 faculty and staff members.”

The Northern Arizona University, Health and Learning Center consolidates five previously dispersed facilities into one cohesive student learning environment that blends student health and counseling, classrooms, campus recreation and intercollegiate athletics. The “facility design has transformed the recreation, health, disability and athletic services provided on campus into a state-of-the-art collaborative health model for the future,” says Beth Applebee, Northern Arizona University’s campus health director.

The University of Denver Colorado, Anschutz Health and Wellness Center fosters a culture of sustainability, healthy lifestyles and disease prevention. The facility is remarkably unique in its combination of a fitness center, a wellness clinic, research labs, a green roof with vegetables and herb gardens, a healthy bistro, a research and educational grocery lab, classrooms and meeting rooms.

“We wanted this facility to be the beacon that makes the University of Colorado Denver campus, and our community and state, the epicenter for promoting wellness,” says James O. Hill, PhD, Executive Director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. “This whole center is devoted to making wellness an American core value.”


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