Jim Walczyk, the director of Recreation at the University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNC Charlotte), shares how CannonDesign and Jenkins Peer partnered up to create their state-of-the-art recreation facility.
In early 2020, UNC Charlotte opened its first-ever campus facility solely dedicated to health and recreation. The UNC Charlotte University Recreation Center is a dynamic hub for student health and recreation, offering students a wide variety of recreation opportunities thanks to multi-purpose courts, indoor and outdoor pools, group fitness studios, a cycling studio, an elevated running/walking track, space for cardiovascular and weight training, and more. The state-of-the-art facility was designed by CannonDesign in association with Jenkins Peer Architects.
To celebrate this significant milestone for UNC Charlotte, Campus Rec Magazine recently spoke with Jim Walczyk, the school’s director of University Recreation, to talk about the facility, what it took to make it a reality and much more.
Jim Walczyk: We had an exciting programming period for this project. Beyond the typical feasibility study to support the creation of the recreation center, there were key issues we needed to deal with right away. There were immediate questions around if our recreation center could share the site with an academic building and how our recreation facility might accommodate a competitive swimming pool for the university.
Our collective team did a fantastic job navigating all of this. We engaged stakeholders extensively. We visited other facilities across the country and talked with their teams for key lessons learned. Our decisions were ultimately driven by the fact we may need further expansion. UNC Charlotte’s enrollment growth has been steady, now in the near 30,000-plus annually, and recreation trends are ever-changing We needed a dedicated student facility prepared to grow and adapt with our university.
Recognizing this, we chose to move forward with this fantastic recreation center for the site. The entire team — staff, designers, all stakeholders — did a remarkable job considering different options and scenarios during programming that made the project stronger overall.
JW: We had clear goals for this project from the start that truly guided us through the project, including:
I’m proud to say the new University Recreation Center achieves all of these goals and empowers us as a recreation department and institution like never before.
JW: I indicated how close the student union and this new recreation building are to one another, and the building is also within the academic corridor. We’ve truly created a student zone on campus. While in this zone, you can eat, study, go to the bookstore, drop in for a workout, socialize and more. This collision of positive student experiences creates inherent buzz on campus and you can feel it.
More than that, this space is dedicated to recreation. When we were in shared facilities, there were challenges with the hours our students could use them for recreational activities. But now, it’s every day, all the time. The building is always buzzing with energy as a result. This is truly a student-focused building. Beyond the dynamic spaces, it has a graphic package heavily based on students and their goals. It’s really their building.
JW: It’s the incredible variety of recreation and fitness opportunities. Walking through our facility, we have different zones. We have an incredible array of cardio and strength machines, we have a turf playground area with sandbags, and more functional training tools. They love it.
We invested in a variety of and top-line equipment on purpose. We want our students to have great experiences. We want them to leave our institution informed about health and fitness. We want them to be smart consumers when they graduate and seek their own gyms to join.
In regard to our staff, they just love how this facility grows our impact on campus. We’re able to create new opportunities, offer entirely new programs, hire more students and work with more students. It’s a dream come true for our team.
JW: The University Recreation Center just strengthens UNC Charlotte’s commitment. We already have an outstanding student health center, a dedicated counseling center, and the recreation building is another key piece in the health and well-being equation on campus.
Having this dedicated facility allows us to collaborate with our internal partners like the student union, academic units like kinesiology, our wellness promotions group, dining services and more in abundant new ways. It all adds up to a better student experience and better student health, which we know translates to better student success. This building is an incredible asset, and it will help our team create new opportunities for students to thrive. What this building makes possible for our department is incredible and we need to seize that opportunity.
JW: We were incredibly fortunate to have the design partners we did. To be able to connect CannonDesign’s national expertise with Jenkins Peer’s strong local presence and history on our campus was just incredible. Even better, Colleen McKenna, the leader of CannonDesign’s Sports, Recreation and Wellness practice, is a UNC Charlotte alum. This created a cohesive team and culture of success for the project that helped us develop a vision and see it through.
This is the second recreation center project I’ve taken on in my career across the country along with several smaller projects. I’ve worked with many different teams and the team of CannonDesign and Jenkins Peer impressed me. Communication, feedback, engagement, creativity — they did it all and we couldn’t have asked for a better team.