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Research and Planning Pay Off

The fitness center at the University of Kansas offers many unique features, and is the result of years of thought and planning.

The Student Recreation Fitness Center (SRFC) at the University of Kansas (KU) was only opened for six months when the university realized it needed to be bigger. Traditional routes for raising funds were not available, since those were used to build the original facility. However, a student came up with a plan that made it possible to build an expansion without increasing student fees. Explains Director of KU Recreation Services Mary Chappell, "It was a unique arraignment with our Athletic Department and seating at home men's basketball games. Students gave up seats and, in turn, the Athletic Department was able to sell those seats to alumni and the community. The $6 million that was raised was then given to the students for construction of the expansion of the SRFC." Construction is underway, and will be completed in the fall of 2008.

The current facility, which opened toward the end of 2003, was "designed to create a feeling of openness, with lots of windows and skylights to bring in natural light," says Chappell. Also, clear sight lines for staff were created when designing the space, to ensure safety and proper supervision.

To add local elements and to make the facility unique, limestone, which is native rock to Kansas, was used in the entryway. In addition, the facility uses the six different versions of the university's mascot, the Jayhawk, to name its multi-use courts. The first Jayhawk and the current Jayhawk are on the east wall as participants walk up to the courts. The other four (from 1920, 1923, 1929 and 1940) adorn the gym courts.

Student Recreation Fitness Center

University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kan. 785 864-3546; Date facility opened: September 2003 Facility size: 145,000 square feet Number of members: 3,000 to 5,000 users per day Group exercise classes: 42 classes per week Unique elements: 42-foot rock climbing wall, bouldering area and cave in entryway; individual air vents in cardio area
Another unique touch are individual air vents that are controlled by users in the cardio area. The 3-inch-in-diameter vents can be opened or closed based on individual preference. The concept is similar to the way people regulate air flow while on an airplane, Chappell explains.

Much thought went into building the SRFC. When deciding on materials to use for the track, facility management contacted physicians on campus to help determine the right product to use. They chose the synthetic material G-Flex. "We are one of the first division 1 universities in the United States to integrate this surface into their building," says Chappell.

Another facility feature that underwent extensive planning and research was the fitness equipment. Says Chappell, "Not only did we visit other recreational facilities, but we also toured major fitness equipment manufacturing sites. We learned how products were made, tested and researched." Facility management also let the students help determine the type of equipment it wanted in their fitness center. The facility used some space in one of the university's student unions to let vendors demonstrate their products. "From that, we were able to attain feedback in making our decisions regarding the fitness equipment," Chappell says. As part of the equipment contract, the fitness center included education workshops and trainings for supervising staff, and for staff in charge of maintenance and repair.

A building feature that wasn't planned for, but that worked out well, was the inclusion of a "shell" for the locker rooms, in preparation to build a natatorium. Although the initial idea was to use this space as storage, it soon became a great space for the crew club to store its ergs and to practice. Says Chappell, "It saved them thousands of dollars in rent at an off-site location."

The SRFC's original design and upcoming expansion have been a success because facility managers put a lot of thought and care into planning the fitness center. They also care for their members, including those who helped pay for the original facility, but never had a chance to use it. SRFC offers a "former student" membership category, which is given to students who helped to pay for the center, but who graduated before it opened. The membership provides these former students a free semester for every semester they paid the student fee before it opened. Explains Chappell, "If you were a freshman, it is possible you could have 12 free semesters of membership to the SRFC, to be used any time. ... We had 3,000 membership activations of former students in the first year."

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