MONMOUTH -- Christina Overgard dropped by Western Oregon University's newly-opened Health and Wellness Center on a recent afternoon to say "hi" to friends, some trying it out for the first time.
Overgard, a senior, has been a regular since returning from spring break. Her review?
"It doesn't feel like I'm just at Western ... it's awesome," noted Overgard, who said she "loves" the center's treadmills because of their iPod compatibility and touch-screen televisions.
"Everything is pretty high-tech," she continued. "The only place we had before was a weight room underneath the football stadium."
On this busy day, students worked out upstairs on a vast floor filled with cardio and strength machines -- and with an enviable view of the Coast Range.
Joggers and walkers on an elevated running track paused occasionally to watch pickup basketball games on the two courts below. Others fiddled with gear and tested handholds on a massive climbing wall.
"It adds a lot," said Tyler Dube of the building. Dube, a senior, came to shoot hoops.
"Personally, I think it makes this campus," he said.
A formal celebration for the recently completed, 84,000-square-foot recreation and academic complex off Jackson Street
will take place on Friday, April 8.
But the fanfare has been nonstop since the facility's soft opening two weeks ago, said Rip Horsey, Wellness Center director.
"With this being the first year, we had guessed at an average user base of 6,000 a week," Horsey said. "In the first two days of spring term, we've had 4,200 users ... a little chaotic, but positive."
Western had been mulling the need for a recreation center for almost a decade before planning started in earnest in 2006. Total cost for the complex and renovations to the Old Physical Education Building is just more than $30 million. Funding comes from the state and per-term student fees approved by students themselves in 2008.
The driving factor has always been the need for more recreation activities for students on campus, said Tom Neal, WOU physical plant director. And it's become more pronounced as WOU's enrollment has skyrocketed, he added.
"The center increases the concept of community," Neal said. "We've grown to the point that we're no longer a Monday-through-Thursday campus, where people head home on weekends."
Western becomes the fourth of the state's public universities to erect a recreation center. Such facilities are becoming more important on campuses as a retention and recruitment tool, said Horsey, who was hired to head the wellness center last fall.
Before coming to WOU, Horsey directed fitness centers at the University of Missouri, Gonzaga University and for the YWCA in Topeka, Kan.
"`A healthy mind in a healthy body,'" Horsey said, referencing the oft-used Latin quotation. "You come to school to be educated, but also to grow ... a place like this helps with that."
The wellness center includes classroom space that officials had envisioned opening during winter term while the gymnasium was being finished.
"But it became apparent that the systems in the building were so tied together and centralized that we couldn't open one without the other," Neal said.
The recreation center, for the most part, will not be available for public use, with the exception of Wolverton Pool.
Faculty, staff and their spouses and partners may be able to buy per-term memberships. Students may invite those not affiliated with WOU to purchase a day guest pass.
Gary Dukes, WOU vice president of student affairs, said the university decided not to extend memberships to alumni for now, even though some other Oregon schools do so.
"We didn't want to impact the fitness clubs in the local community," Dukes said.
Horsey said various campus groups have begun to make reservations for the center. In the future, climbing classes might be offered as well.
"Oh yeah, I'll be using it," Overgard said of the climbing wall. "I'm scared of heights, though ... so maybe the smaller one at first."
Check It Out
* A grand opening celebration for the WOU Health and Wellness Center will take place at noon on Friday, April 8.
By the Numbers
$30 million -- cost of building
53,000 square feet -- size of recreation facility
22,000 square feet -- amount of classroom space
9,000 square feet -- space devoted to football program
1,600 square feet -- size of climbing wall
56 -- pieces of cardio equipment
46 -- number of student employees
15 -- number of laps on elevated running track equivalent to a mile
2 -- number of racquetball courts
2 -- number regulation basketball courts