Planning efforts are now underway for a new multistory recreation center to be built on middle campus, something campus administrators say students have long asked for. The project, which is projected to open fall of 2022, is one of the 14 short-term priorities listed in Pitt’s campus master plan.
Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner said students have often complained about campus recreation facilities, and he’s excited to address this request.
“To see this campus master plan and to look at the best way to address student needs, the student rec center was identified as priority,” Bonner said. “It represents our commitment to well-being and wellness, which I think is part of what you hopefully learn in college is how to take care of yourself for your entire life.”
Before construction can begin, existing structures will have to be demolished and the staff will have to be relocated. The center will be located on O’Hara Street at the current site of the Learning Research and Development Center and the O’Hara parking garage. Demolition of these facilities is currently set for next spring.
Existing parking capacity will be preserved in a new facility on the site of the recreation center, according to Bonner. He said Pitt hasn’t yet decided whether the parking will be under or adjacent to the new recreation center.
In an email, University spokesperson Kevin Zwick said the University’s facilities management department and the Office of the Provost are actively working on the relocation plans for the LRDC, but he did not provide a list of sites under consideration.
Pitt Executive Vice Provost David DeJong said his team was working to make the relocation as seamless as possible for LRDC staff.
“Working with the team at LRDC, my overriding goal is to manage this relocation so that it minimizes the disruptions to their programs,” DeJong said in an email. “I’m excited about the possibilities that are shaping up for them.”
The center, which could be as large as 300,000 square feet, would include amenities such as weight lifting facilities, basketball and volleyball courts, a test kitchen for student nutrition and a recreation pool. Bonner declined to provide a cost estimate for the project, citing ongoing design work, but said final designs will be released in the fall.
Student input is being solicited through a 15-member student advisory panel, which held its first meeting April 8. Members were nominated through the Student Government Board, the School of Education’s Health and Physical Activity program and several divisions within Student Affairs, according to Bonner.
Taylor Funke, a junior media and professional communications major, sits on the panel and felt like her and other student opinions were heard. That, Funke said, will contribute to a better facility.
“I know a lot of universities can feign the sort of, ‘we want to hear back from you,’ and then you kind of feel like you’re talking to a brick wall,” Funke, who is also a student employee in Student Affairs’ campus recreation division, said. “We have so many organizations … Everyone, I feel, is being appropriately represented and given that voice for this space, which is why I think it’s going to be really successful.”
In addition to students, faculty and staff will also be able to use the recreation center. Bonner said faculty will be able to utilize the facility at a cost similar to the current $130 wellness fee full-time students pay each semester. A separate advisory panel will be created in the coming months to seek their feedback.
“We want to get their feedback on what they would like to see in the facility from their perspective,” Bonner said. “My priority is really to meet the needs of students, but … I don’t think the needs are that dissimilar.”
Once the recreation center opens, Bonner said the Petersen Event Center’s Baierl Recreation Center will be reserved for student athletes.
Adam Johnson, a first-year computer science major who frequents the Baierl Recreation Center, said what he wants out of the new recreation center can be reduced to a single word: “more.”
“The [Baierl] has a lot of good amenities, but they lack quantity,” Johnson said. “Since there’s few options for gyms that have weight-lifting equipment, they try to pack a lot in a small space, but they just simply don’t have the quantity to serve all of the people that need to go there.”
Johnson said he often goes to the weight-lifting facilities in Trees Hall due to long lines at the Baierl.
“Sometimes you’ll spend 20 minutes just standing there waiting for the weight you’re looking for to become available,” Johnson said.
Bonner agreed the current facilities are inadequate for current student needs and said the new facility will be able to better accommodate the activities of all students.
“What we’re looking at is to make this more of a place where you can go and have a variety of things you can get into,” Bonner said, “and feel this energy of everyone sort of doing their thing in one place on campus.”