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A magazine from California State University, Chico -- On-line Edition  
Summer 2007
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CLICK HERE to view a slideshow of images from the new WREC
WREC lobby with students passing each other; Rock climbers getting ready to climb the wall; Outside night shot of the WREC.

The Place to Be … Active

The much-anticipated Wildcat Recreation Center opens its doors to thousands of students

Be honest—as college students, how many of you spent hours designing a schedule without early morning classes? Didn’t it often seem like college students were physically incapable of activity before 9 or 10 am? So how do you explain long lines of Chico State students waiting to get into a campus building before 6 am? No, it’s not a mad scramble into the library before finals week—it’s the brand new Wildcat Recreation Center (WREC).

“I got here this morning at 5:30 am, and there was a line of people waiting to get in when the doors open at 6 am,” says Rick Scott, WREC director. “We must be doing something right! These are college kids who dread 8 o’clock classes—who would have thought we’d get them out of bed at 5 in the morning?”

In mid-August, the new Wildcat Recreation Center, known as the WREC, opened its doors to students for the first time.

“It’s been a long time coming, and the implications of what has been accomplished will last a lot longer than any of us will,” says Rick Scott. “It’s going to be one of the most significant things that has happened on campus for student life in years. We hope that students will spend lots of time here working out, getting fit, developing lifestyles that will stay with them after they graduate college that will promote their health and their fitness.”

That’s what brought third-year business student Stephen Davis to the WREC. He was studying for a test before class at one of the snack bar tables after working out on a Tuesday afternoon. He spends about three hours a week at the WREC, and hopes to get in “full” shape again—he was an amateur boxer and trained in Brazilian jujitsu before moving to Chico this summer.

“A healthy lifestyle is very important to me,” says Davis. “Besides the gym, I try to eat well, and try to stay away from anything that damages my health. I hope to get in shape with the WREC and hope to participate in Adventure Outings and Rec Sports. I always notice Adventure Outings when I sit here; it looks fun.”

The WREC is the product of many years of discussion and planning; two student referendums—one in 2001 that failed and the one in 2005 that passed on a “don’t pay until you play” platform—and two years of labor tearing down the old warehouse at Second and Cherry and building a 130,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility.

While the center was expected to be a positive addition to campus, no one imagined just how popular it would prove to be. In its first 10 days, the WREC’s turnstiles rotated about 30,000 times. Certainly some of that traffic could be chalked up to curiosity, but two months later, there are still on average 2,000 users a day, and there are no signs that there will be a slowdown anytime soon.

The biggest surprise for WREC director Rick Scott? “If I had to pick one thing, it would be the smiles on nearly everyone’s faces as they come in the building,” says Scott.

Daring to dream big

One of the many people on campus to share in the vision of a new rec center on campus is Kimberly Scott (BA, Physical Education, ’84; Credential, ’87; MA, Physical Education, ’88), director of Recreational Sports for 24 years. “When I was cleaning out my old office I found an old document. It was a short-term, long-term goal sheet that I had given the dean of the College of Education at the time, Ed Miller, and under ‘long-term goal’ was ‘develop a plan and strategy for a recreational center.’ This was back in ’87, and he wrote under it, ‘If you’re going to dream, dream big.’ ”

Many would agree that the WREC is a big dream come true. The center is open from 6 am to midnight during the week and noon to 8 pm on weekends, with plans to expand weekend hours once additional staff can be hired. The heaviest traffic is from 5 to 9 pm.

“It’s amazing to be here at eight at night and to realize that there isn’t a machine that isn’t being utilized, that the courts are full, that people are in all the rooms,” says Kimberly Scott.

While the building looks strikingly modern from the outside, the real essence of the WREC isn’t felt until you step inside. The first thing you notice is its openness, its spaciousness—you can see in all directions and up to the second floor via the central gallery that links all major activities in the building. Then you notice the people—working out on the exercise machines on both floors, shooting hoops on the basketball court, climbing the rock walls, getting information at the Adventure Outings booth, and meeting in groups in the lobby.

The WREC was designed to foster interaction. A large group of people worked for several years on the details of the building; in addition to the architectural firm and builder, Associated Students and University staff, faculty, and students met at various stages of the process and talked about what they felt were important features of the center.

“We felt that the center should become the ‘living room of the campus,’ ” says Kimberly Scott. “So it had to be warm and inviting and friendly and open. We put a lot of time into everything from the biometric hand scanners to the personal TV screens on the fitness machines. One thing about having waited longer than a lot of universities to actually open the doors is we benefited from all the mistakes those early facilities made.”

Scott has studied and visited many university rec centers. “During the early ’90s, universities began to realize how important it was to provide good facilities for the average student to be able to get physical exercise, be able to incorporate health and wellness issues and recreation,” she notes.

The idea at Chico State was to offer students more than just a gym. “We wanted students to be able to get a little food, do a little homework, see their friends, work out, and be comfortable doing that,” says Rick Scott.

Key CSU, Chico leadership, including David Buckley of the AS, and Herman Ellis, Paul Moore, and Jim Moon of Student Affairs, had seen top-notch recreational centers at universities around the country. “There was awareness that we didn’t have those facilities and other universities did,” says Rick Scott. “When you’re competing for talented students, you have to have top-of-the-line facilities along with an excellent academic program.”

The WREC is a great addition to the list of what Admissions staff has to offer when they are recruiting, says Admissions director Allan Bee. “Families are very interested in the types of co-curricular activities that are available to students. This is another way we can assure them there are numerous ways in which our students can get involved and stay healthy in Chico.”

Pay and play

The nearly 17,000 CSU, Chico students enrolled each year pay for the facility through an additional $175 per semester fee. Those among the 2,000 staff and faculty on campus who want to join can pay $200 a semester.

The $63 million facility features a 25-meter, 10-lane pool and 24-person hot tub, a 35-foot rock climbing wall, three full-size basketball courts, a multi-activity sports court, an eighth-mile indoor running track, four group exercise rooms, a snack bar, digital lockers, and showers. The building is designed for silver certification through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards of the U.S. Green Building Council. Solar panels for the pool, rainwater capture for irrigation, natural lighting, and other energy-efficient features help with the qualification for LEED silver status.

“Throughout the design phase we looked for ways to build in quality,” says Rick Scott. “It might cost us more up front, but it was going to save us money in the long run.”

For example, the gym floor has a hard coating that has to be resurfaced only every eight to 10 years, saving up to $40,000 a year on resurfacing costs. On the indoor track, the colors of the lanes alternate between black and red, eliminating the need to spend $14,000 to regularly repaint stripes between lanes. The solar panels used to heat the pool will be paid for in about six years, and after that the savings will be about $100,000 a year that would have been spent on gas. The project itself came in $2 million under budget. “All that money that we saved enables us to reduce our operational expenses and to hire more students and offer additional programs,” says Rick Scott.

The WREC houses the popular Recreational Sports and Adventure Outings programs, which will benefit from the increased exposure to students. Rec Sports has found in the WREC a much greater availability of facilities for activities for its 5,000 students and has already added swimming to the lineup of sport clubs. “Having Sport Clubs and Recreational Sports in one building allows us to see what trends are happening, to see what people are doing,” says Tony Capretto, graduate assistant coordinator of Sport Clubs. “Are there a lot of people playing badminton? Can we form an intramural league with sport clubs? We can see it already with swimming and with the popularity of badminton, volleyball, etc.”

Capretto notes that students are flocking to the group exercise classrooms and the multi-activity court, where they can play indoor soccer, volleyball, and even inline hockey. “Our programming is increasing substantially,” he says. “From a sport club perspective, the most exciting thing is that two clubs—inline hockey and water polo—that didn’t really have facilities finally have an on-campus home where they can practice and increase their level of play.”

Offering healthy alternatives

Other features aren’t all about exercise: S-shaped conversational couches, a snack bar, and a resort-style swimming pool with its surrounding lounge area and oversized hot tub are designed to encourage students to linger at the center.

The leather couch groupings throughout the building and the tables in the snack area make great places to study and hang out.

“Aside from being a gym, the whole building is wireless, and that provides a place for students to come if they have downtime from their classes,” says sophomore Kellie Hatten, who works out at the WREC three times a week. “I’m not a big fan of sitting in the quiet library—I’d rather be over here. When I have a break between classes, I’ll head over here with my laptop.”

Capretto appreciates the variety of activities within easy reach. “For me the exciting thing is I can do a workout and then know that there’s an exercise class coming up and go into the class, and then go do another workout, go into the pool to relax for a little bit, and I get a broad workout,” he says.

Hatten, who also works at the front desk of the WREC, says there are always students sitting in the lounge area and attending special events like Monday night football. She says it has provided a new way to meet people, such as at pickup basketball games or in exercise classes.

“It provides something else to do for students who don’t want to go out on the weekends,” says Hatten, whose roommates also go to the WREC on a regular basis. “We are open Thursday and Friday nights until midnight, so they have that option of coming here instead of just sitting at home. It doesn’t have to be such a big deal for you not to go out because you can come here.”

Other perks for students

In addition to offering all the modern amenities of a fitness center, the WREC provides students with jobs—130 out of 800 applicants hired before the WREC opened—and as the center expands, opportunities for more jobs. The positions range from front desk personnel to administrative staff to lifeguards and exercise class instructors.

Administrative staff worked very closely with student leaders and the AS government office. “We knew that there would be a tremendous amount of student involvement in the planning phase and the operational phase of the WREC,” says Rick Scott. “We really believe in empowerment and encouraging and helping young people grow into adulthood.”

Capretto is in charge of the WREC on Saturdays, managing the building operations and providing administrative assistance for WREC staff. “This is the kind of experience that I’ve always desired,” says Capretto. “They have given me so much responsibility, encouraged me to develop into a leader and a supervisor. I’m here all the time—even when I’m not scheduled to work—because I take so much pride in this building.”

With the possibility that there will soon be increased hours at the WREC, there should be even more opportunities for students, both in terms of recreation and jobs. “Overall, I think this building is a great asset to this university,” says Capretto. “And just the looks of absolute amazement and excitement on everybody’s faces—to see 2,000 people in here daily is a huge testament to what this facility means to students.”