University Rec Center Focuses on Student Wellbeing

University Rec Center Focuses on Student Wellbeing

The sounds of running feet and clanging metal fill the air at Texas A&M University’s newest student recreation center at the College Station campus. Throughout the day, 5,000 to 6,000 students seeking a fitness break steadily stream in and out of the building per day.

The opening of the Southside Rec Center in fall 2022 marked the culmination of a multi-year effort to provide more recreational space for students. 

The university — the largest in Texas — had grown exponentially over the last quarter century. From 1995 to 2022, the student body increased 70 percent to over 71,000 students.

When the new rec center was completed, A&M officials fulfilled a promise to provide every student with convenient access to recreational space. But the new center didn’t just offer space. With student input, it was carefully designed to incorporate the best and latest trends in fitness to optimize students’ wellbeing.

Sustainable design

The building’s exterior was designed with the hot Texas climate in mind. Several features help keep the heat out while letting the light in. Windows are outfitted with high-performance glazing and covered with a subtle pattern (ceramic frit) to increase their energy efficiency. Vertical shading fins provide additional protection from the sun. On the south and west sides of the building, a large overhang with eaves creates shaded areas around the perimeter of the structure.

The landscaping around the building includes several water conservation features. Vegetated channels called bioswales were incorporated around the bike parking area, directing rainwater to a detention area south of the center. Surrounding the building are native plants, which can withstand the hot, dry climate. Needing minimal irrigation, the vegetation also helps control rainwater runoff. 

Keeping up with trends

In recent years, fitness clubs have been incorporating more of the natural environment into facilities, in light of research showing the benefits of being in nature and the outdoors. While planning the Southside Rec Center, designers from SmithGroup took advantage of the building’s location next to the golf course. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out onto trees and open green space. By using glass walls for interior rooms, natural light filters throughout the entire space. 

Students can also appreciate nature in the 15,000-square-feet outdoor fitness area. Directly accessible from the weight room, a covered outdoor terrace is lined with artificial turf and outfitted with strength and conditioning equipment. Large, industrial fans help keep participants cool in the warmer months. 

By popular demand, the outdoor area includes two sand volleyball courts and open space for other leisure and outdoor activities, such as lawn games or relaxation.

The 63,500 square feet of indoor space includes a wide range of strength and conditioning equipment. For weight training, students have access to 240 dumbbells ranging from 5 to 150 pounds, as well as an array of assisted machines for lifting.

The two cardio stations, both upstairs and downstairs, feature state-of-the-art cycling, stair climbing and rowing machines, as well as ellipticals and treadmills. All the machines can be connected to any Bluetooth device. Students can listen to music, watch movies or follow video workouts or outdoor routes.

In addition to the fitness equipment, the center has space for group fitness activities. Students can climb the bouldering wall or take classes in Pilates, kickboxing, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), barre and yoga in the multipurpose room. Two multisport courts on the upper level are used for everything from basketball and badminton to the fastest-growing sports craze: pickleball.

Staying healthy while getting fit

When the Southside Rec Center began construction in 2021, concerns about protecting the health and safety of students had taken on new urgency. Rick Hall — then director of recreational sports —  wanted to do more to protect students while they worked out indoors.

For such a high-traffic, high-touch environment, Hall knew encouraging hand sanitizer use would be an effective approach. After discovering Vaask’s hand sanitizing fixture, he made sure the permanent, touchless units were installed throughout the center. 

Hall could see right away that the design of the fixtures attracted attention and would increase use. 

“Students just walk by, put their hand in and — boom — they walk away with clean hands after barely breaking their stride,” he said. 

The ease of maintenance has been a hit with the custodial staff. They appreciate how the cartridge has a wide cap for quick refilling from gallon-size jugs of sanitizer gel. Vaask’s fixtures also save maintenance staff time by being easy to refill and having no batteries to replace. There’s no problem with drips and spills because the retractable pump and catch tray keep sanitizer off the floor.

The attention to detail that went into the new recreational facilities on campus demonstrates A&M’s commitment to enhancing the health and wellbeing of students. 

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