‘Early stages’ of rec center expansion being discussed

Enrollment at Oakland University has increased each academic year for 17 years straight. Because of this, areas on campus have expanded to adapt to the larger student population.

One area on campus that has yet to expand, though, is the recreation center.

Since the center was first built in September of 1998, enrollment has grown 52 percent, according to Director of Campus Recreation Greg Jordan.

With enrollment reaching a record-high 20,711 students in fall of 2015, it’s no surprise that overcrowding of the rec has recently become an issue.

“With growth comes demand and you hit capacity, so we’re crowded,” Jordan said. “We’re busy and people are seeing it. We know it because we’re turning away student organizations because we don’t have the space to give them.”

Because of the overcrowding problem, the conversation of expanding the 140,000-square-foot facility has begun.

On Dec. 3, 2015, a focus group led by TMP Architecture brought students, faculty and campus rec staff together to seek feedback and preferences from the campus community on what their ideal recreation facility would look like.

The focus group was the first step in what will be a long series of events that hopefully result in the expansion of the rec center.  

Jordan said informally, the campus community wants more multi-purpose space, social space and cardio and strength space. He also heard a desire for outdoor programs, including walking, biking and running trails.

“Not every need is going to be able to be met. We’re going to have to look at student input and student demand,” Jordan said.

Although it’s an institutional decision on whether the expansion will happen, Jordan thinks there is strong evidence that it’s a need.

In fall semester 2015, 112,311 total visits were made to the rec, and 6,617 students used the facility. That’s an increase of 1,157 visits and 177 students from fall semester 2014.

On Jan. 19, 2016, 1,607 students visited the rec, which is tied for the eighth-most since the rec opened. The most visitors in a day at the rec is 1,817, which was on Sept. 8, 2015. Jordan said most of the top-10 attendance days were in 2015.

Also notable is that 80 percent of the students who used the facility in fall 2015 were on-campus residents. Eight-five percent of on-campus residents used the rec in fall 2014.

Jordan said the center felt the effect on usage after a new 500-bed residence hall was built a year ago, and with a 750-bed residence hall set to be completed in 2018, it can be assumed that it will have an impact on usage as well.

“Basically, I’ve been saying in conversations that we need to double the size of the rec center,” he said. “We still might be growing another 10 to 20 percent in student population, so let’s build it big enough so we don’t have to build it again.”

The recreation department will work with the athletic department, which is also dealing with the same issues of demand and space, for the expansion.

Several other areas of the university will be involved as well, since space in the 110,000-square-foot O’rena and rec center can be used for other purposes like concerts and lectures.

Jordan said the goal is to have a concept developed for an expansion by the end of the semester. He also said the department may conduct a campus-wide survey before the semester is over too, but he stressed that it isn’t trying to undermine of jump ahead of other projects currently underway around campus.

Instead, the department’s trying to get ahead of the overcrowding problem because it knows increasing enrollment will have a “domino effect.”

“This is the first step in a marathon,” he said.

Campus rec is a department within the division of student affairs. Its vision is to be “a leader in providing excellent and comprehensive experiences that promote student success and community well-being,” and its mission is to “offer programs, services and facilities that create a connection to Oakland University, encourage life balance, and foster student development,” according to the department’s page on Oakland’s website.

More information on the rec center, including hours and group fitness schedules, can be found on www.oakland.edu/campusrec.