The Main Street Vision
University of Cincinnati Campus Recreation Center
Before embarking on its MainStreet capital program, the University of Cincinnati was sorely lacking quality of life facilities, placing the school at a distinct competitive disadvantage in relation to peer institutions.
"In 1997, the university did a comprehensive study of our student life facilities," said Kendra Violet, associate director of facilities and operations at the new Campus Recreation Center. "We were known as a commuter campus, and they wanted to bring life back to campus and keep students on campus. They determined that our campus life facilities were lacking."
Supported by the findings of the study and in accordance with a campus master plan, the university committed $234 million—the single largest capital investment in the school's 185-year history—to the development of MainStreet. The new Campus Recreation Center represents one part of that project, which also includes renovation of the student union and construction of a student life center.
MainStreet was planned to weave a path through the middle of campus, establishing a sense of place for the community. As one piece of this larger vision, the recreation center's design needed to connect well with the surrounding structures on this urban campus.
With the recreation center making up 202,000 square feet of a 357,000-square-foot complex, the facility also contains a 224-bed residence hall, an award-winning dining center, a convenience mart, six auditorium-style classrooms, stands for the adjoining football stadium and varsity football locker rooms.
"I think the number-one unique aspect is you have these other components as part of the building," Violet said. "You can live, work, eat, play and take classes all in the same building."
"When we first started the project, the program that we were to design was just the rec center, and when we looked at the way the site is situated around the football field, next to the Armory building and part of the MainStreet that was being redesigned, we actually wanted more program to build on the site to make it fit better," said Kimberly Graves, project manager and principal with Morphosis, the architectural firm that designed the facility. "We wanted a map that would better be able to contain the plaza area and make it more formal and relate to the nearby lab building. So we worked with the university to find program that had other funding sources. Because of that, it also made the project really complex. The program was so complex—a rec center with a pool, housing above, a food court and classrooms."
The recreation center sets an example for urban architecture with a black, gray and white color scheme punctuated with skylights that bring in natural light and open up the massive space. Ceilings soar up to 68 feet in some areas, and the open plenum wire-mesh ceiling allows views of the supporting structure and pipes, adding to the urban feel.
At the single main entrance, visitors will find premium care in the one-stop-shop Member Services area. Here guests and members can sign up, check in, peruse the Pro Shop, check out equipment or sign up for one of many program offerings.
Once in the center, visitors get wide-open views to various areas, providing a feeling of connection between the vast number of program areas.
"We wanted the program to have opportunities where you look from one space through another. We didn't want to isolate those program elements. We wanted them to interact and visually connect with one another," Groves said. "You can sit in the food court and look down into the gym. You can run around the track and look across through the workout spaces. We were trying to create wonderful opportunities where spaces aren't contained by four walls, but the windows allow views into other parts of the building."
The new recreation center has improved quality of life for University of Cincinnati students. From marathon training classes to argentine tango, there is a program here for everyone.
"Students love it," Violet said. "It's great because before, you could have a senior who didn't even know there was a rec center on campus. Now we're the number-one tour spot for prospective students.
Community memberships open the facility's door to the surrounding area, inviting them to the campus, further enhancing recruitment. In the summer of 2006, the center hosted 500 inner-city and underprivileged youth for the Cincinnati Recreation Commission's Summer Swim League championships. Some of these kids might never have stepped on a college campus before. Other student tours are also contributing to future enrollment, Violet said.
"We had a junior high group recently that we brought through, and when they got back, their big thing was talking about how they were going to go to UC," she explained.
From its exciting architecture to the state-of-the-art equipment and impressive list of program offerings, the Campus Recreation Center has become the place to be not only for students and others on campus, but for the city of Cincinnati as well.