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More Than a Gym: Renovation Marks New Chapter for Wellness and Recreation

Rendering of the exterior of the new Wellness and Recreation Center
The new Wellness and Recreation Center is scheduled to open in 2020. Along with Talley Student Union, it will co-anchor a centralized hub for student life at NC State. All renderings provided by HOK Architects.

All across NC State’s campus, construction sites serve as a daily reminder of the university’s upward trajectory. For the past few years, progress often has taken the form of cranes, work crews and jackhammers.

At the corner of Morrill Drive and Cates Avenue, another building project promises to transform campus – and the student experience – once again.

Carmichael Gymnasium has been the hub for recreation and fitness at NC State for almost six decades. But for quite some time, the storied space hasn’t quite matched the needs of an evolving campus. There have been renovations, expansions and additions over the years, but thanks to the foresight of students and growing support of donors, a new and improved facility began taking shape.

Currently scheduled to open in 2020, the Wellness and Recreation Center promises to be so much more than a gym. And with Talley Student Union across the street, the corner of Morrill and Cates will become a centralized hub for student life — a place that highlights the unique partnerships and campus services that support students every day.

Eric Hawkes, NC State’s executive director of Wellness and Recreation, can’t help but smile when he talks about the future.

“A building is a building, but it’s what happens inside that really has an impact on students. We want to support students so they can be successful,” Hawkes said. “We’ve been very intentional about the features this building will include, and, in a larger sense, the new facility aligns with a whole host of changes we’ve made at Wellness and Recreation.”

Last year, University Recreation became Wellness and Recreation to better reflect the department’s focus on promoting holistic well-being and recreation while highlighting the importance of physical activity.

Hawkes said spaces in the new facility will allow NC State’s student body to take full advantage of everything Wellness and Recreation offers.

“People just think of a gym. They come in, work out, take their health and exercise studies classes and move on,” he said. “We’ll keep owning all of that, but today’s students want and need more. We’ve reshaped our entire department to look at all the different dimensions of a person.”

Checking in at more than 82,000 square feet, the new facility will include functional training areas, fitness center space, a rock wall and dozens of multipurpose areas. It also will feature meeting space and a teaching kitchen, two items that align closely with the department’s new goals.

“Yes, we do need new fitness space, but it’s more than that. Our design has been very purposeful. New meeting spaces will allow us to invite more campus partners who support wellness and provide them better access to students,” Hawkes said. “We see 80 percent of NC State’s undergraduate students, so we see our role expanding to ensure that students know about the services available to them. We can bring Financial Aid, Dining, staff from the Counseling Center and so many others to our space. That’s the special part of this project — we can have so much more of an impact on our student body.”

Students Lead the Way

Hawkes said he’s proud that students have been involved in each step of the project, even dating to September 2015, when student leaders, Wellness and Recreation staff and university administrators first started discussing the new space.

“Students have been involved in every facet of it. My job has been to advocate for them, and they have been so great in shepherding this project through,” he said.

One of those students is Adam Schmidt, a senior in civil engineering. As a freshman, he was among a group of student government leaders selected to serve on a committee that would help steer the renovation process. Schmidt said Wellness and Recreation staff and university administrators have truly partnered with students.

“It’s important that people know how much Wellness and Recreation has responded to student needs through this process,” Schmidt said. “They have been receptive, and they listen to suggestions. They would show us designs, ask us how to make changes, and they’ve even included us in the budgeting process throughout the construction.”

Schmidt, Hawkes and others even left campus to get a better sense of what the Wellness and Recreation Center could be. Members of the committee visited several universities in 2017, touring some of the newest wellness facilities in the country.

“A gym is no longer a place where students want to go and just work out. It’s become a social hub and so much more,” Schmidt said. “It’s an expectation now that these buildings do more, and it’s been great to see that Wellness and Recreation supports it being a more comprehensive facility.”

Scheduled to open in 2020, the new Wellness and Recreation Center will include several new group and individual fitness spaces that can be reserved in advance. Rendering provided by HOK Architects.

Hawkes, who has spent his career in wellness and recreation at NC State, the University of Missouri and Florida Atlantic University, said the new facility will “meet students where they are” on their fitness journey.

“Students come to NC State, and they’re trying to find their place. We want this facility to be a space that helps them to that,” he said. “We owe everyone an opportunity to be active, whether it’s through group fitness, intramural sports or something else. It’s more important than ever. Student needs are much more complex than they used to be, so we are excited to have space where we can provide answers.”

Paying It Forward

Student Government passed a resolution in September 2015 approving a student fee to help fund the project, setting in motion more than two years of work to figure out needs, designs and construction timelines.

“Students accepting a fee in today’s climate? That’s pretty special, and the student leaders are willing to pay it forward. They recognize the value and benefit of the space we’re creating,” Hawkes said. “I give them a tremendous amount of credit for thinking about more than what’s on their plate today.”

Schmidt said the approval of the $92.50 Carmichael Addition and Renovation Fee highlights the trust students put in Wellness and Recreation.

“We’re willing to pay into a project that we won’t use because we know Wellness and Recreation [staff] want to make the experience better. We trust them to do this well,” he said.

Schmidt also pointed to previous generations of students who were willing to invest in future students through fee approvals.

“The current generation on campus has benefited greatly from Talley Student Union, and that is a similar project. Students agreed to pay for it and deal with all of the construction knowing they wouldn’t be the ones to benefit from it,” he said. “I see the same potential for the new Wellness and Recreation Center to transform student life on campus.”

Although students have already agreed to pay for the project, Hawkes said private support can help offset the costs.

Prospective donors interested in investing in wellness have the option to name a number of spaces in the new facility, including entrances, fitness centers, performance studios, the climbing center, and the teaching kitchen, among others.

Scheduled to open in 2020, the new Wellness and Recreation Center will include a teaching kitchen designed to educate students about nutrition and healthy cooking. Rendering provided by HOK Architects.

“Any money we can raise goes directly back into the project, and ultimately, that will reduce the cost of attendance for students,” Hawkes said.

“It would be awesome for me to go back to student leaders and tell them we’re reducing the cost of attendance because, in essence, that’s exactly how private support would enhance this project. It’s a chance for people who love NC State to impact every single student who uses our facility.”

The new Wellness and Recreation Center is just one of the campus enhancements in progress. Learn more about another iconic spot’s makeover through our The Memorial Belltower: A Legend in Stone series.

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