On Sunday, the University Recreation Center’s newly constructed addition was debuted to the JMU student body. The extension, which totals 137,815 square feet of new space, nearly doubles the size of the original structure and will later include a renovation to the old portion of the building. 

According to Eric Nickel, the director of university recreation, the student body response has been enthusiastic. 

“One of the most rewarding parts was being there at 4:00 on Sunday, when the first students who had been waiting in line outside came in,” Nickel said. “Just watching the looks on their faces as they saw the new place.” 

As previously reported by The Breeze, the combined expansion and renovation projects total approximately $57 million. 

The addition features expanded weight, fitness and cardio spaces; six new group fitness studios; new gym and court spaces; a second indoor track; an outdoor courtyard and a new recreational fitness pool and spa, according to the JMU website. 

According to Nickel, he and associate directors Steve Bobbitt and Bob Golson worked with project manager Glen Wayland to envision the new space. They decided what rooms and equipment to add based on feedback from JMU students and faculty, as well as information they collected when touring renovated recreation centers at several colleges and universities. They also hired two architectural firms and a contracting firm to help with research and to design and build the space. 

Since the addition was opened, Nickel has seen a significant increase in the number of students coming to UREC. 

“We set a record ... the first [full] day it was open, on Monday: 5,552 students in one day,” Nickel said. “We’d never broken 5,000 before.” 

Lauren McGlaughlin, a senior communication sciences and disorders major and an employee at UREC, believes the student body is benefitting from the expansion. 

“Everyone I know that doesn’t usually work out, like, ever, is working out,” McGlaughlin said. “It’s been so busy and we’ve gotten great reviews with our variety of stuff that we have.” 

Now that the addition is complete, the construction crew has begun work on the next phase of the renovation, which involves changing much of the function of the original UREC building. According to Nickel, it is important to keep the building open throughout the renovation. 

“One of the conditions that we gave the contractor when we hired them is we said, ‘You can’t take away spaces. We can’t have things down when we’re building the new,’” Nickel said. “Because there’s still students coming through here ... And they can’t just not have a rec center.”

However, this stipulation is not without its challenges. According to Nickel, there was a small flood in the building when a water line was cut recently, and on Monday night an employee pulled the fire alarm when they smelled propane, evacuating the building. 

“Inevitably when you’re constructing a building this big, you’re gonna have things like that happen,” Nickel said, adding that the gas smell was from “a gas heater heating an unheated space” during construction and posed no real threat. 

The old building, which will be fully renovated by May and open for student use in August, will include features such as a new adventure center with several bouldering walls and a second freestanding rock wall, a bike repair center and a wet-dry combination room for lifeguard and CPR training. There will also be a demonstration kitchen for educating students about cooking healthier meals. 

“You can’t really address total personal wellness effectively without addressing nutrition,” Nickel said. “Talking about healthy product substitution and how to use better, healthier ingredients, I think, is a great opportunity to educate folks on things that will be important to them later in life.” 

The grand opening for the fully renovated building is scheduled for Oct. 7, which will be the 20th anniversary of UREC. In the meantime, many students seem to be making the most of the added facilities. 

“I think it was the best thing to happen to JMU,” Gemma Bronson-Howard, a junior marketing major, said. Bronson-Howard especially likes the new running track, which is one-sixth of a mile, as opposed to the old one-tenths of a mile track. 

Ultimately, Nickel hopes the new-and-improved UREC will have a positive effect on the entire student body. 

“Our goal is to get 100 percent of the student body in a healthy lifestyle habit before they leave here,” Nickel said. “And if this center makes that happen, we’ll be successful.”

Contact Alyssa Miller at breezenews@gmail.com.