When UNC Charlotte’s new University Recreation Center opens in Summer 2019, it will provide the campus with its first facility fully dedicated to campus recreation. In line with the university’s core focus on empowering students to lead healthy lives and in response to growing student demand and enrollment, the recreation center will serve as a dynamic hub for health, recreation, wellness and campus culture from Day One.
“This facility will improve the university community’s experience at UNC Charlotte with increased opportunities for healthier lifestyles through physical activity and a variety of programming in a singular, dedicated facility,” said Jim Walczyk, UNC Charlotte’s director of recreational services. “We also believe it will create a stronger sense of belonging on campus.”
In uniting its recreational offerings/programming in one facility, UNC Charlotte is able to offer a number of exciting spaces and programmatic opportunities for its students and staff. The five-story, 148,000-square-foot center includes the outdoor pool building, and features indoor and outdoor pools, multi-purpose courts, indoor and outdoor pools, multipurpose studios for group fitness, sports clubs and other activities, cycling studio, demonstration kitchen, fitness balconies, outdoor volleyball and basketball courts, an elevated running/walking track, space for cardiovascular and strength training, and more.
“There are so many exciting features of this building, but one that especially stands out is the 29,000-squre-feet of dedicated space for open fitness related to strength and cardio training. This will triple our current available space and be spread out over four floors to allow students to work out in spaces where they’re most comfortable,” said Walczyk. “The indoor and outdoor pool are also exciting features as they’ll not only help our people pursue fitness, but should also be outlets for relaxation, stress-relief and socialization on campus.”
Throughout the building and site, there is a strong connection between indoor and outdoor spaces. The use of glass creates transparency between floors and helps break down physical and metaphorical walls. Students running on the indoor track or lifting weights can quickly view or transition to outdoor volleyball, basketball or even a swim in the pool.
Beyond just bolstering UNC Charlotte’s campus recreation programs, the new university recreation center is designed to promote inclusivity, accessibility and accommodation for all fitness levels. “Creating a recreation center for everyone on campus was a key focus for UNC Charlotte,” said Colleen McKenna, a principal for CannonDesign – the firm that led planning, programming and design for the project – and an alumna of the university. “We looked at every opportunity to maximize participation with flexible spaces that are visually connected and guide the user from one level to the next. It’s exciting to deliver on this goal for the university and its community.”
For McKenna and her team at CannonDesign, UNC Charlotte’s new recreation center is a proud moment. “Obviously, having attended this university as a student, it means a lot to now create such a significant building for the campus as a professional,” said McKenna. “I remember visiting the UNC Charlotte campus nearly a decade ago with David Body, the leader of our sports and recreation practice at the time, to begin thinking about this project. I am so proud of the way it serves all fitness levels, strengthens the campus, and solves unique building and site challenges to create an epicenter for positive student experiences on campus. With it now well under way, our team is excited about the value it will bring to UNC Charlotte long into the future.”
While UNC Charlotte’s new recreation center represents exciting opportunities for the future, it also represents the culmination of a remarkably collaborative process. UNC Charlotte leadership, students, CannonDesign, Jenkins Peer Architects, and others all shared their ideas and played a role. Together, the collaborative team identified the key needs for the center and helped tackle design challenges around building stacking and slicing, 3D visualization, and efficient design. When it opens, the center will feature all 25 of the original add alternates features identified for the project, translating to over $2 million in value-add features designed into the original budget.
“As campus recreation professionals, we understood the space, functions and elements our project needed,” said Walczyk. “Having a collaborative design team that could listen to those thoughts and translate them into a versatile, functional facility that meets campus standards and can serve as a centerpiece for the university – it made a huge difference.”
“UNC Charlotte has desired a new recreation center for a long time and this building will help them achieve their goals in an amazing setting,” said Dan Van Dyke, a principal at Jenkins Peer Architects, the architect of record for the project and a firm that has worked on the UNC Charlotte campus for decades. “Locating the recreation center adjacent to the student union is a key move that will create a stronger center for campus experience for the students. This building will help UNC Charlotte recruit, retain and achieve its goals.”
Excitement for the building is growing at UNC Charlotte and its community with a video flythrough of the project already securing over 5,000 views on YouTube and playing on loop in buildings across campus. While the building will ultimately serve numerous purposes for UNC Charlotte, the wide breadth of fitness and wellness opportunities it creates may be its defining feature.
“Our students were actively involved in voicing their wants, needs and goals for this project,” said Walczyk. “They gave us a tremendous amount of input, and then we worked to incorporate these priorities into the building. We believe firmly that campus recreation needs to serve everyone at our university, regardless of fitness experience or any other barriers to wellness. Whether our students are interested in a traditional workout, mind-body activities, stress management, healthy cooking, team competition, socialization or group fitness, this building is equipped to serve them.”
James Labbe is a key leader in CannonDesign’s sports and recreation practice located in the firm’s Boston office. Throughout his career, he’s built a proven record of delivering successful collegiate campus recreation and sport buildings.