When Stephen Kampf called the former director of campus recreation at Westchester University, Steve Gambino, neither could have guessed a 25-year friendship would ensue.
“From that point on, we became close,” said Gambino. “I think at the beginning I felt as more of a mentor to him, and then we became fast friends.”
Kampf recalled as he took steps from one university and position to the next, Gambino was always on the other end of the line. It was a lesson on networking he would take all the way up to the 2014 campus rec renovation at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in Bowling Green, Ohio.
As the assistant vice president for student affairs and the director of recreation and wellness at BGSU for 11 years, Kampf was part of the initial conversation to renovate the rec center in 2010. The center was built in 1979 and is designated as the first student funded stand-alone recreation center in the country.
With a few small prior renovation projects under his belt, Kampf said when planning began in 2012, he had to step outside of his rec center. “Our goal was to visit schools that had just either renovated or had completed a project in the last five years,” he explained. “What we did from that is take the good and take the bad and emphasize the good and make sure we don’t do the bad.”
Kampf, along with Thad Long, the associate director at BGSU, and Dave Hollinger, the assistant director, toured over 50 rec centers in 2012. Long explained they dove into what other rec centers were glad they did, what they wish they had done and any recommendations they could give for BGSU. For example, Kampf was intrigued by the University of North Florida’s new facility and in the end happened to select the same construction company, Gilbane. In terms of smaller details, Kampf would ask rec centers what piece of equipment was their favorite and what their dealings with some of the equipment companies were like.
But learning and networking with others didn’t happen just outside of the rec center. Hollinger explained one key lesson he learned is to get as many people involved in the process as possible from the beginning. For BGSU, that included the students. “Involving the student body here was very important in getting this project going, and since ultimately we’re a student recreation center, having their feedback throughout as to what they’d like to see — the end result — was a big takeaway for me,” he said.
In fact, the new front desk at the renovated facility was designed by a student staff member. Kampf said the student knew best how to set up the space that functions as the spot for check-in, retail, renting equipment, etc. “We wanted to put together a front desk that could accommodate multiple aspects of the operations of the facility,” he said. “[The student] did an excellent job in organizing that front desk.”
Students had a large voice and influence in the overall renovation project, probably larger than they know. They were vocal about what they wanted in the facility’s revamp, including a desire for a great variety and quantity of new weight and cardio equipment. That was something Long said they didn’t ever sway on after setting aside $750,000 in order to achieve that. “Many times during the project, during our cost-cutting discussions, that item was brought up and Steve very firmly said, ‘That’s not going anywhere,’” said Long. “We wanted to get everything we could for our students and our community and our patrons, because we weren’t sure we’d get another bite at that apple.”
Communication was another theme to BGSU’s renovation process. Kampf explained they moved the main entrance of the facility and increased the visibility of the center by opening up the space. But this wasn’t without challenges.
The main entrance facelift and revamping of the facility meant BGSU’s staff had to communicate with members and staff about use of the rec center. “It was very thought out the way we did it, because we didn’t want to cut off services to students,” said Kampf.
Not all downtime could be prevented. There was a period of time members had no access to the pool. So, Long explained they kept members engaged by offering a loyalty bonus, as some people only came to the campus recreation center for the pool. “People who retained their membership, once we reopened, would get an additional discount on their new membership in the new facility,” he said.
Hollinger also had to clearly communicate with student staff. He explained with the renovation and downtime in some areas, they had to cut back on staffing requirements. It came down to answering how to keep staff happy and motivated, as well as how training would happen during and after the renovation. “The strategy I utilized was thinking big picture,” said Hollinger. “I always like to say it’s a short-term inconvenience for a long-term gain, and just trying to continually keep them motivated to think about what will this project be when we’re done and how cool is it going to be to be a part of it?”
The student and campus reaction has been nothing but positive. In fact, Kampf said utilization of the rec center has gone up 15 to 20 percent since the renovation. Between 68 and 70 percent of the student population has used the rec center at least once during a given year. And, Kampf has done extensive research to prove students who use the rec center have a higher retention rate and higher GPA than those who do not utilize it.
Plus, BGSU’s rec center is now a stop on the campus tour, becoming a significant component in the showcase of the university. Long said the tour guides used to stand a block away, pointing out the rec center to potential prospects of the university. Now, you can find one tour after another in the rec center’s lobby on a Saturday morning, showing off the new facade. To the rec center team, they are proud to be a player in bringing students to BGSU.
“I think one of the best things I’ve received from the whole project is on a Saturday, you come in and there are multiple admissions tours walking through the facility,” said Kampf. “I try to walk sometimes around the admissions tours and hear what the parents are saying, and they’re like, ‘Wow, I wish I had one of these when I was in school.’”
However, the renovation and its challenges would not have been possible without clear communication, listening and networking. One reason why Gambino noted Kampf has found success and improved every rec center he’s been a part of is because he wasn’t hesitant to give someone a call. “He’s always asking a question to make the program bigger and better,” said Gambino.
And in a renovation like BGSU’s, you can’t wait around for information or lessons to come to you. Often, you have to seek it out in your students, your staff and your peers.
“Pick up the phone and call somebody … People in the profession are willing to give you advice, are willing to give you answers to your questions,” said Kampf. “Networking to me is one of the greatest things I do.”