Kentucky universities entice students with fitness centers

Zach Senvisky, a freshman sports management major, lifted weights recently at the $24 million Morehead State University Recreation and Wellness Center.
Zach Senvisky, a freshman sports management major, lifted weights recently at the $24 million Morehead State University Recreation and Wellness Center.

Morehead State University president Wayne Andrews visits the school's $24 million Recreation and Wellness Center two to three times a day just to see how students react to the latest addition to campus life.

Because students volunteered to pay an extra $100 a semester to help finance the building, Andrews doesn't doubt their commitment to the new center, which is expected to impress potential students and keep those enrolled tied more closely to the campus.

But will it work?

"The data is universally 'yes' to that question," said Andrews, who had built a similar center during his time at East Tennessee State University.

Morehead's center will give students an on-campus spot to do everything from playing pickup basketball to tackling the custom-designed outdoor adventure/challenge course.

In an era when students have more academic choices, fringe benefits — such as fitness centers — play an increasingly important role in where they spend their education dollars. Morehead's big splash into the wellness sector is one of the biggest among Kentucky universities, but also notable is the commitment shown at Northern Kentucky University, which offers students health-related videos, a Facebook page and massage options in an effort to encourage them to take better care of themselves.

NKU student wellness manager Maggie Gough said that when she started her job three years ago, she asked students where she could reach them best. The answer: social media, including Facebook and YouTube.

So NKU is there, offering information including where to find healthful food options and snacks on campus, and physical fitness advice, such as the importance of getting up from your computer at least three minutes for every hour you spend seated (called the "60:3 rule" and mighty handy for the computer-bound).

At the University of Kentucky, the Johnson Center student fitness center is, along with the massive William T. Young library, a constant stop on the daily campus tours for potential students. Johnson Center includes a rock-climbing wall, which Ron Lee, director of campus recreation, said is one of the "wow" factors for students.

A UK survey indicated that 28 percent of students were positively influenced to attend UK by the presence of the dedicated workout center, he said. It offers programs including a fitness challenge of assorted workouts, a program to help overweight students learn healthy habits, and free nutritional consultations.

"It's not just the place where they work out," Lee said. "It's the place to be."

Student buy-in

At Morehead, students were involved in the planning process and got to look over final plans for the fitness center.

The pool is an eye-catcher, said Morehead student government association president Lindsay Adkins, and the center gives students a place to go on weekends if they want to avoid the "suitcase" run home and spend more time on campus.

"Some people didn't know we even had a pool," said Glenn Means, the SGA vice president at Morehead, who said he's proud of the more than 60 classes that will be offered at the center, including Zumba and spinning.

Here's what Morehead's $24 million bought: a three-court gym and fitness area, with cardio and weight machines and two racquetball courts; multipurpose rooms; a running track, a wellness lab; a game room; and a competition-size pool that includes a vortex and a zip line.

'Wow' factor

At Lexington's Transylvania University, the Clive M. Beck Athletic and Recreation center, which opened in 2002, cost $13.5 million, measures 90,000 square feet and creates its "wow" factor in campus visits with its multilevel gymnasiums and marble and cherry finishes. It replaced the very basic McAlister Auditorium complex.

"Has the Beck Center been a recruitment tool for Transy? Absolutely," said Ashley Hinton-Moncer, fitness and wellness director at Transylvania. "There is not a campus tour that does not include the Beck Center. It opens a lot of opportunities for students."

Before the Beck Center opened, Transylvania didn't really have a wellness program, Hinton-Moncer said. Now the school offers students free exercise classes, personal trainers at guaranteed lowest rates and free nutrition advice.

The school also offers sports at both intramural and "club" level, for students who want to compete but not at a varsity level. This includes the school's team for Quidditch, the sports modeled on the airborne game in the Harry Potter book series.

"We have a pretty big challenge ahead of us to get all the campus active," Hinton-Moncer said.

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