Several years ago, a survey of students at the University of South Dakota deemed on-campus fitness options "unsatisfactory."
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony in honor of the USD Wellness Center held Tuesday afternoon, university president Jim Abbott said he knows "this will no longer be their opinion."
"I am pleased to say that this not only satisfactory, it is nothing short, in my opinion, of spectacular," he said.
The $15 million, 61,000 square foot facility has been open to students and area residents since Jan. 17, but for many, Tuesday was the first chance to see up close the center's 32 pieces of cardiovascular equipment, two basketball courts, two racquetball courts, one multi-purpose activity court, two fitness rooms, three-lane jogging track and 38-foot climbing wall, which members of ROTC were on-hand to demonstrate.
"The wellness center will provide for students, faculty, staff and community members the opportunity to live a healthier lifestyle," said dean of students James Parker. "As you look around today, it is obvious of why 2,802 people entered this building on its (opening day), and 3,978 people who used the facility on the first weekend."
Jon Christensen, first-year medical student and former business manager for the USD Student Government Association, was one of four SGA members who served on the Wellness Center Planning Committee. Student input in the project was "crucial," he said.
"This wellness center is the direct result of the students' drive to further improve the experience here at the University of South Dakota," he said.
Christensen said while the completed facility has the potential to provide for every fitness need a student could desire, it offers something more, as well.
"In addition to what this facility has to offer, it also demonstrates the importance and value of the students' voice at this university," he said. "Students helped to initiate interest in a new wellness center, students helped in the planning and students helped in portraying its importance. This is truly a wellness center for the students."
Initially, Abbott had proposed remodeling the 17,000-square-foot Continuing Education Center into a new student fitness center, but that plan was changed after the officials heard student feedback.
"The students essentially said, 'No, we want a new building.' They wanted a facility such as this, and have for a long time," he said.
Parker took time to thank everyone who was involved in the project, "First and foremost, the students of the University of South Dakota, especially our Student Government Association," he said. "Our students are premier, and you deserve a building that meets your academic and future expectations. And I believe that they are proud of the building that the University of South Dakota has built."
He also mentioned, among others, Planning Committee Chair Joel Nelson, Director of Wellness Steve Mayer, RDG Planning and Design, the Henry Carlson Company, Questions & Solutions Engineering, Inc., the office of the state engineer, the student services staff and the City of Vermillion.
Abbott echoed these sentiments, stating, "Because of your efforts, our students have a facility that they will happily use for many years to come."
Parker added that the facility will offer the students much more than just a place to exercise. He said that while he was giving a tour on opening day, he noticed a group of students playing a game of pickup basketball.
"There was a student in a wheelchair, an international student, an African-American student, a female student who appeared to be Caucasian and a male student who also appeared to be Caucasian. The interactions that this building will provide … will benefit the interactions of faculty, staff and community for years to come, and will be such a positive contribution to our university, community and the world around us," he said.
Use of the wellness center is free for students with a USD I.D. It also is open to members of the community, offering single, couple and family monthly and annual memberships. Daily guest passes also are available at the door.
Hours of operation are 5 a.m.-midnight Monday through Thursday; 5 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday; and noon-10 p.m. Sunday.
For more information, visit http://www.usd.edu/campus-life/student-services/wellness-center/.