Shaping up: New rec center strengthens heart of campus

by | Nov 17, 2015

UMSL's student-driven Recreation and Wellness Center adds serious value and serious fun to the campus and the surrounding community.
UMSL Recreation and Wellness Center 1

An indoor track curves out around the front entrance to UMSL’s student-driven Recreation and Wellness Center. The new facility adds serious value and serious fun to the campus and the surrounding community. (Photos by August Jennewein)

For a few moments, Jericah Selby doesn’t know what to say.

The University of Missouri–St. Louis alumna just walked through the main entrance of the UMSL Recreation and Wellness Center for the first time – a place that didn’t yet exist when she was a student several years ago.

“It turned out just fantastic,” bursts Selby eventually. “It’s so welcoming and open, and there’s just a lot of space to do what you want to do and feel comfortable. And it’s so cool seeing how many people are here.”

UMSL Recreation and Wellness Center 2

UMSL students Crystal Teigland and Jackson Bond take a dip in the 155,000-gallon pool.

She turns to Assistant Dean of Students Miriam Roccia, who is along for the late-afternoon tour of the new facility: “Good job,” Selby says with a smile.

Roccia is quick to point to UMSL’s student body in recent years – including Selby, who was Student Government Association president in 2012 when students voted to fund the project – as the primary force behind the much-anticipated rec center’s fall 2015 debut.

“They cared about the well-being of future students, and they cared about the growth of the university,” Roccia says. Dedicated student leaders even before Selby had a hand in it, including Dann Rosner, who in 2010 initiated a campus survey to gauge interest in such a facility.

“In seeking out student feedback on how to improve campus, we found that a large number of students were interested in an updated rec center,” recalls Rosner, now an employee at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. “We also looked at it from an enrollment and recruitment standpoint.”

UMSL Recreation and Wellness Center 3

From its long open hours to friendly staff to aesthetics, the UMSL Recreation and Wellness Center is “an amazing place to exercise, de-stress and have a good time,” says pre-med student Rodney Whitney, who is majoring in biology and Spanish.

Ask current students for their impressions, and the consensus is that there’s a lot to love about the new $36 million rec center. From the state-of-the-art fitness equipment, to the rock-climbing wall, to the 155,000-gallon pool and more, it’s garnering rave reviews.

Junior accounting major Cydney Gehner is partial to the elevated indoor track with its plentiful windows and stunning campus views – characteristics that students pushed for in the design phase.

“I’m an avid runner, but every winter I kind of slack off,” says Gehner, who is not a treadmill fan but also doesn’t love running in the cold. “Now I know that after class on Tuesdays and Thursdays this will still be my routine. As open as it is and with all of the natural light, I feel like I’m outdoors even if I’m not.”

Sophomore Rodney Whitney, a pre-med student with majors in biology and Spanish, says he’s “proud that UMSL is improving the simple things” that can really enrich the student experience.

“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle plays a big part in my well-being as a student with a rigorous schedule, so the rec center’s options make it a great place to spend time getting fit,” he says. “I’ve also met and gotten closer to many amazing people just by speaking to the friendly staff.”

UMSL Recreation and Wellness Center 5

Along with a 155,000-gallon pool, the natatorium sports a zipline, bouldering wall, vortex and more.

That staff includes more than 100 student employees, which speaks to another aspect of the boost the new facility provides: convenient, on-campus job opportunities for UMSL’s busy students. Lifeguards, rock wall supervisors, receptionists, trainers…the list of roles goes on.

Whitney adds that while wellness and recreation are in a sense very separate from academic life, he sees the rec center as ultimately “a valuable academic tool” for the campus community.

“It allows students to remove themselves from academics while improving their mental well-being,” he says, “thereby providing life balance and later enhancing academic performance.”

During the first two weeks of the fall 2015 semester, the facility saw between 900 and 1,000 visitors per day. While those figures include some faculty and staff as well as community members, Roccia notes, the vast majority of users are UMSL students. Constructing the rec near the Millennium Student Center on North Campus appears to have been a wise choice.

“Both commuter students and residential students said they would use it if it were here, and I think we’re seeing that,” Roccia says. “I’m watching commuter students come to campus at 9 a.m., and they have their gym bag and their school bag, and their gym bag just stays in the car while they go to class. Then they change and come right back.”

Junior Tabitha Milon, who takes public transit to campus and works 15 to 20 hours a week at the rec center, says the location is a big plus for her as well.

UMSL Recreation and Wellness Center 4“I used to hate the long walk to the gym,” Milon says. “This is really close to classes, and MetroLink is really convenient.”

Over refreshing Jamba Juice smoothies at the conclusion of her tour, Selby admits it’s all a bit overwhelming – in a good way.

“Even though St. Louis is my home already, this makes it even more of a home,” says Selby, who recently finished her law degree at the University of Denver but was born and raised in north St. Louis County. “I love UMSL. It’s just a great feeling. I think this just adds so much to the campus.”

Campus rec by the numbers
14,000 square feet of open fitness space
123 hours of operation per week
85 pieces of cardio equipment
30+ group fitness classes per week
4 group fitness studios
3-court gymnasium (including a multiactivity court with dasher board system)
2-story climbing wall with bouldering wall
1 elevated track with two loops, scenic views and an incline
PLUS a zipline, juice bar, sauna, swim lessons, intramural sports and more!
(See for further details.)

This story was originally published in the fall 2015 issue of UMSL Magazine.

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