Campus-wide Strategies to Increase Fitness Space

fitness space

Collegiate recreation directors are very resourceful; many schools maximize programs by squeezing activity out of every square foot. But no matter what size your facility or your student enrollment, there is a point where you cannot support the demands for today’s student recreation needs. Reaching this limit is a sign of success. It means the program is engaging students and fulfilling the mission of encouraging healthy lifestyles, improving student retention, academic performance, and overall student satisfaction. When you reach this limit and an expansion does not appear achievable in the foreseeable future, what can be done to gain space in the meantime?

Small Satellites

Many institutions have created small satellite fitness rooms co-located within residence halls, but there are challenges to delivering a quality experience in these spaces. They are difficult to staff adequately to provide proper supervision, safety and direction. They often feel like an average hotel fitness room and do not deliver the same inclusive experience that defines the mission of campus recreation. An alternate approach is to create satellite boutique studios that deliver the same high-quality experience as the main recreation center. While cardio equipment space is still important, trends show a greater demand for directed group fitness, and these types of spaces are relatively small and cost-effective to build-out. They also have the following advantages over a room with cardio equipment:

  • Expand and provide new program offerings rather than duplicating ones you already have.
  • Draw participants from across campus because of the specialized class versus only the building’s occupants.
  • Provide quality supervision by the class instructor versus secondary oversight from student-life staff.
  • Create an active vibe consistent with the experience in the main recreation center.
  • Use technology to deliver fitness-on-demand allowing for activity when a directed class is not scheduled.

Specialty Academic Fitness Centers

Some schools have formed collaborative partnerships between departments to create fitness centers integrated into academic buildings. This approach was implemented in the new Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. While the fitness center caters to business school students in the evenings, it is open to general student use during daytime non-peak hours. This strategy benefits both the academic program and recreation department by providing additional recreation space for students that can also enhance project fundraising, assist in student recruitment and allow cost sharing for the operation of the facility. If your campus is planning a new academic building, it presents an opportunity to advocate for a small increase in area to create a fitness center that might shorten the timeline for more space by piggybacking on a project that is already under development.

Full-service Satellites

Another approach to be considered is adaptive re-use of older campus buildings that are being replaced. As new dining facilities and student unions are built to meet changing student expectations, the older buildings can present an opportunity for a sustainable re-use. An example of this is the Anna Fascitelli Fitness & Wellness Center at the University of Rhode Island, where an obsolete dining hall was transformed into a satellite facility that significantly increased the recreation, fitness and wellness offerings provided to the campus community.

While these specific strategies may not be directly applicable to every campus, they demonstrate creative approaches are possible that can incrementally increase the health and wellness program offerings to meet ever-increasing demands.


Sal Canciello is a principal for S3 Design, an architecture firm dedicated to the design of facilities for recreation and athletics. He can be reached at, at 781.848.8804, or visit

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