Running a successful campus recreation department is all about listening to student feedback and trying to the implement the changes they desire. This is precisely what the Department of Campus Recreation did at Texas A&M University-Commerce.
In 2014, enrollment at the university had increased from 10,000 to 12,000 and students were in need of additional space for recreation, especially outdoor space for certain sports. So they decided to build a brand new Outdoor MAC court.
“The motivation for the Outdoor MAC court came from student input about there not being enough space in the Morris Recreation Center to serve soccer and volleyball,” said Kari Osborne Albarado, the senior associate director of campus recreation. “This was a concern we have had since 2013 due to our indoor gym space primarily being used for basketball, which during peak times leaves students wishing to play soccer or volleyball, without a location to play.”
According to Albarado, the students voted to pass a Rec Sports Fee Referendum to increase the recreation fee from $65 per semester to $150. As part of this referendum passing, the department was able to make the commitment to build this new $2.3 million Outdoor MAC court.
“The Outdoor MAC court will be used for arena soccer, futsal, floor hockey and volleyball,” said Albarado. “We can play full court arena soccer, futsal, or floor hockey — or we can turn one large court into three smaller courts using a divider wall system with the center court being used for volleyball. We also anticipate using this space for our special events program. Currently, we host nine cultural and social events throughout the academic year. Having the Outdoor MAC court will give us more space to be creative in our events.”
They began planning for the project in August 2015 with SmithGroupJJR, who served as the architects of the project. Albarado explained it took approximately a year to plan before they broke ground in August 2016. “The project was not in the Master Plan when the building was constructed in 2003,” she said. “So taking land that wasn’t intended for an athletic space and transforming it was a challenge in itself.”
As with any building project, another challenge was remaining on budget. “The project needed to be innovative and as a part of our first construction project post-referendum, we had a commitment to the students to create a state-of-the-art facility, but needed to stay within the price point of what we could afford,” said Rick Rosenstengle, the director of campus recreation. “This led to us working with SmithGroupJJR to prioritize the students’ needs in the facility.”
The Outdoor MAC court will open this spring, in April 2017. Albarado and Rosenstengle shared a few lessons they learned throughout the process:
“Lessons we learned throughout the process is that solutions are not always with one person — when you are on a college campus and working on a construction projects, decisions require alignment, coordination and collaboration,” said Rosenstengle.
“In the planning process, deadlines matter,” explained Albarado. “As the owner/operator of the space, not hitting a target date or responding to a request, can delay the project significantly. You have to make the construction project priority so that others involved in the project can do their job, and you have to communicate effectively.”
“Advice I would give would be to listen to what your students/patrons want,” said Rosenstengle. “Go out and do the research on your products so you can tell your architect what is out in the field, but also what those that will be using your facility want.”
“Be flexible and willing to compromise. As a recreational professional you will not know every detail regarding construction — you have to trust those that are in those positions to make the best decision for the project,” added Rosenstengle. “For us, it was relying on our project manager with our on-campus facility management company to be a trusted resource throughout the project.”