All In Favor

University of Arkansas-Fort Smith

Project: Construction of the Recreation and Wellness Center at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith

Architects: WER Architects/Planners and HOK Architects

Completion Date: August 2016

With a growing student body, the old recreation center at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith would no longer suffice. Students made it clear they wanted a new and improved facility. Starting in early 2014 the Student Government Association at the university took the lead in spearheading the effort for a new Recreation and Wellness Center on campus, which is completely student funded. According to Meighan Pendergrass, the director of campus recreation at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith, students pay five dollars per credit hour.

“In February 2014 they held a vote and the majority of students ended up voting for building this project and raising the student activity fee,” said Pendergrass. “The information then went in front of the UA System Board in March 2014 and the proposal passed.”

Once they had the green light to construct the new facility, Pendergrass began doing extensive research in order the make the new Recreation and Wellness Center a stand-out facility. She attended the NIRSA Facilities Institute to gain best practice resources and also toured over 22 facilities that had recently been constructed.

And the end result was worth the wait. The new Recreation and Wellness Center is 47,000 square feet, more than doubling the fitness space in the previous facility. The new recreation center features a rock climbing and bouldering wall, expanded cardio and strength training space, two full-size basketball courts, two full-size volleyball courts, a walking track, studio spaces, new Matrix equipment, and many other features the students desired.

“They love that there is more space. It is open, airy and more inviting,” added Pendergrass. “We have students that will just come in and hangout in our lobby space. The facility has drawn more students than those who just want to work out. They are coming in and hanging out between classes, watching people play basketball. Our lounge chairs have USB plugs and electrical plugs so they just come in and do homework between classes. It is a major draw.”

When undergoing an extensive facility development project like this, Pendergrass stressed the importance of doing your research. At the end of the day it is not about what you want, but it is about listening to the students and finding out what works best. “Visit facilities and reach out to those colleagues from other facilities who have recently done this,” she suggested. “There is such a wealth of knowledge. After each visit I would come back and have about 10 pages of notes that I would type up. The NIRSA Facilities Institute is worth the money and time to go to. It would have been beneficial for me to go earlier in my process.”

Emily Harbourne was a previous editor for Campus Rec Magazine.

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