University of Kentucky (UK) Campus Recreation recently made a splash by adding new PLAE ICONx fitness equipment racks to its Johnson Center facility.
The additions come after the results of the department’s bi-annual customer satisfaction survey of all fee-paying students made clear student interests began to focus on the use of the power rack space.
Mark Lattin, the director of Campus Recreation, said despite having more than double the available power rack and deadlift space since the Johnson Center’s opening in 2003, the feedback indicated they did not have the capacity to meet student demand.
“We also observed in 2021-22 a spike in the crowding and long lines waiting to use the rack spaces,” said Lattin. “When statistically significant survey results so clearly match the observable reality on the ground, it’s a clear call to address the situation. To me, thriving is about returning value to our users and demonstrating that we are willing to change as their needs and interest evolve.”
To make room for the new racks, the racquetball court area at the Johnson Center was repurposed and transformed into a dedicated workout space. Casey Gilvin, the Fitness director, said one of the biggest factors in re-imagining the room was the limited square footage.
“We simply had 800 feet of space to work with where we needed a 100% custom setup to ensure the area was as versatile as possible while still factoring in safety,” said Gilvin. “Literally, the racks needed came down to a few inches. We knew we wanted to maximize the number of stations in the room. In doing so, we had to find a narrow rack system.”
Choosing PLAE ICONx
Gilvin said PLAE ICONx racks were an ideal choice for a narrow rack system that also created a defined pathway down the center of the room for egress and safety.
“Secondly, we needed the racks to be aesthetically pleasing,” said Gilvin. “We wanted people to come into the room and see it and be wow’ed. We wanted something over the top. You see a great deal of racquetball conversions traditionally renovated to gain open functional training space. We needed racks, and we needed the space to stand out.”
Gilvin said from the beginning, they knew the focus of this area was not simply to add rack spaces, but to add a one-stop shop for facility users. The concept was to have these racks available by both a reservation-based system and open use. In the room are six stations all identical in their features:
- Barbells, bumper plates and adjustable benches.
- Adjustable pulley systems.
- PowerBlock dumbbells ranging from five to 90 pounds.
- Kettlebells and other accessories to support training in the spaces.
The room is also stocked with specialty barbells catering to participants training in specific modalities like Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting and Crossfit. Gilvin said the room sits away from most of the fitness areas in the building, and there’s no time to run back and forth for equipment.
Gilvin said the department thankfully already had an established relationship with PLAE in previous projects which made the decision easier.
“PLAE proposed a solution as their company was starting to develop rack systems to complement their flooring products,” said Gilvin. “From top-down, PLAE could meet our need for the flooring requirements and provide customized options and appealing equipment. PLAE’s customer service has been second to none in the projects we’ve had with them.”
Student Reaction and Benefits
Lattin said students have reacted positively to the new space and the racks. In the first month of operation, Campus Recreation is seeing 37 reservations per day in the former racquetball area.
“That is a major increase over the previous use of that square footage,” said Lattin. “As students become more aware of the service, we expect that number to rise. We have nearly doubled the available rack/deadlifting space in the facility and diverted significant peak-hour traffic to a space that had been very low-volume. We have already realized the benefit to our users in terms of decreased crowding and lines.”
For lifters who want to spend an entire workout lifting heavy weight and taking significant rest, reservations remove some of the uncomfortable social pressure of angry stares from those waiting to use the equipment.
“Additionally, for some of our novice students who are learning a new movement or still getting comfortable in the gym, the space is much less visible or on display than the open-concept main strength training area,” said Lattin. “We have definitely seen those users drawn to the new space as well.”
Advice and Tips
Gilvin advised for other campus rec departments to listen and get to know their audiences when deciding what new fitness equipment to offer. Also, he recommended finding companies who will take care of you after the sell is over.
“Service, service and service,” said Gilvin. “Buying equipment is only 25% of the process. The other 75% is equipment upkeep, replacement parts, repairs and follow-up. Ask pointed questions to your vendors — lead time, additional costs, how close is the technician, etc.”
Budgets are highly important in higher education, and Gilvin said expensive equipment doesn’t always guarantee high quality. The goal should be to bring the best product to stakeholders while still being fiscally responsible.
“Find companies that truly care about your program and your participants,” said Gilvin. “Are they trying to make a quick sale, or simply trying to help you find the best fit for your program and the people who use your facility? It helps when companies you work with that see the bigger picture in that our goal in recreation is to provide healthy opportunities to our population.”
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