Collegiate Recreation Centers: A Place to Call Home

Not Your Parents Intramurals

By Kathy Russell, ALSC Architects

Not long ago, college recreation programs consisted of intramural sports run by student organizations or teachers in the physical education department. These programs were often housed in a student union building or in the corner of an athletics building. Today colleges and universities are building recreation centers to serve students and staff, and intramural sports are just one aspect of the many programs and services being offered.

Student Health and Well-Being

While intramural and club sports are great for a certain segment of the student population, people who are not sports-oriented need other choices.  Recreation center programs are finding new ways to promote and support healthy lifestyle options in addition to sports.

Fitness programs in most recreation centers include areas for exercise equipment and weight lifting. More centers are now including conditioning programs and personal training, which may require private offices or smaller studios. Group exercise classes such as TRX, Pilates, yoga, Zumba, spinning and aerobics necessitate larger, multi-functional studio spaces.

Wellness programs are being interpreted in various ways, but all fall under the broad umbrella of student wellness. While not in-house at Gonzaga University’s Rudolf Fitness Center, the University does offer well-being programs under the umbrella of their Health and Well-Being Program. North Idaho College’s Student Wellness & Recreation Center has flexible seminar rooms to conduct health fairs, nutrition seminars and health screenings in conjunction with the College’s health services and nutrition departments. Schematic plans for Columbia Basin College (CBC)’s new recreation center include meditation spaces, contemplation labyrinths and quiet rooms for students to have a place to practice centering themselves.

A wide variety of activity programs are finding a home in recreation centers. Intramural and club sports are increasingly being managed from the rec centers facilities, like those at North Idaho College (NIC) and Eastern Washington University (EWU). Many facilities offer running tracks, climbing walls and basketball gyms that can also accommodate volleyball.  Some centers also include racquetball courts, tennis courts and pickleball courts. CBC is making plans for crafts and maker spaces in their new center, further expanding what activities are hosted in a recreation center.

Outdoor Rec is becoming more frequently offered through Campus Recreation departments. EWU has EPIC Adventures, which offers guided outdoor adventure trips for students, as well as equipment rentals and instructional classes. While not housed at their recreation center, NIC does have a Bike Shop that is offered as a part of campus rec that is available to students, staff and the community, as well as an outdoors program and lake and river equipment rentals for enjoying Lake Coeur d’Alene and nearby rivers.

Developing Campus Community and Supporting the Higher Education Mission

According to Ken Morton, the president of NIRSA (National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association) and Stephen F. Austin State University’s Campus Recreation Director, campus rec must fulfill four key functions:

“1.)      Create and strengthen a sense of belonging and community on campus;

2.)       Build lifelong habits for health and wellbeing;

3.)       Serve as a platform for civil discourse, social justice and inclusion;

4.)       Develop transferable skills for a lifetime of success.”

Community: NIC has an indoor/outdoor Family Rec Room that is being used as the tool to create a welcoming space for students and staff to develop community. It is a social area with a fireplace and comfortable furniture, situated in the center of the rec center. It is the hub of the building and the campus.

NIC Rec Center LobbyFamily Rec Room, North Idaho College

Developing Leaders and Team Builders: Some colleges are taking the recreation mission to the classrooms. Using team-building recreation to teach collaboration, instructors are teaching students life-long skills for the work force. Dormitories are using rec adventures for creating community. Rock climbing walls, zip lines, camping and backpacking, bike ride adventures, skiing, fishing and floating are all activities that are being used as a means to achieve a higher education mission of developing well rounded people.

NIC Rec Center Climbing Wall VerticalInterior Climbing Wall, North Idaho College

Civil Discourse, Inclusion, Social Justice:  in recent years, student recreation fees have paid for new recreation centers. As a result, the students are the primary stakeholders in the project and depending on the institution, have a certain amount of decision making influence in the project. During the programming phase of the NIC project, ALSC employees met with students at their Day of Welcome to solicit input about the activities students wanted in their new facility. Similar open forums have been held at other colleges developing programs for their new recreation facilities, ensuring ownership and commitment to the project on the part of the users. At the same time, the process teaches students the mechanics of being involved citizens.

 photo 3Day of Welcome, North Idaho College

Developing Lifelong Habits

The overarching goal of student rec centers could probably be narrowed down to helping students develop lifelong habits; exercise, sports, wellness, inclusion, being in community, leadership, active civic involvement – elements that lead to healthy people and healthy communities through involvement in recreation centers.



Ken Morton Talks NIRSA Strategic Plan, AB Partnership, by Paul Steinbach; Athletic Business, May 2018

How the Role of Campus Rec Continues to Expand, by Michael Popke; Athletic Business, May 2018

Case Study: NIC Student Wellness and Recreation Center by Debbie Bravo; ALSC Fitness Bits, June 16, 2017

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