Wellness Center expansion continues to move forward

One of the most popular destinations for students on campus is looking to make some big improvements in the near future. The UM Wellness Center plans to expand as much as 18,000 square feet over the next two years.

“We want people to walk in and say, ‘Wow,'” said Norm Parsons, director of the Wellness Center.

The expansion, which is projected to cost between $6 and $7 million, includes expanding the current cardiovascular exercise room by taking out what is now the courtyard and adding two additional fitness classrooms to the second story.

In addition to the extra space, the Wellness Center plans on replacing all of its current equipment with new machines, as well as adding some not already present, such as Pilates tables.

Cutting-edge technology will also play a roll in the expansion. Parsons said the Wellness Center will take advantage of its wireless network by possibly adding computer monitors to the cardiovascular machines, as well as installing flat screen TVs throughout the building.

“Our goal is to have all the bells and whistles you’d expect to find at a world-class gym,” he said.

The need for an expansion has become more apparent in recent years. Parsons said the master plan for the original Wellness Center called for a maximum student body of 8,500 students enrolled at UM.

Over the past decade, however, the Coral Gables campus student population has increased by 2,000. Plans for the university’s overall expansion call for a significant increase in the number of on-campus residences, from the current 4,800 to 6,000, which Parsons believes will increase the number of students coming to the gym.

Many students already feel the Wellness Center is tight on space.

“I think [we] need more machines. From about 4 p.m. to 8 or 9 p.m., there’s not enough machines and it gets really annoying,” said sophomore Lauren Campbell, a Wellness Center employee. “With the overcrowding issue, having only two sets of 8-pound and 10-pound weights just doesn’t work out.”

The facility currently sees 3,500 to 4,000 visitors per day; 70 percent of those are students. Parsons hopes that after the expansion that number will jump by one-third.

While many of the students come for the machines in the cardio room, such as the elliptical, treadmills and steppers, the aerobics classes have been gaining in popularity as well.

“One of the most popular features at the Wellness Center are the fitness classes,” Parsons said, “We currently offer 175 classes, but after the addition we hope to offer well over 200 and more classes at the most popular times.”

The source of the funding for the addition is not yet known. Parsons said the Wellness Center is hoping for a donor, but in the meantime will rely on money lent by the University.

“It’s looking like it will be 10 months to a year before the actual construction begins,” Parsons said. “We hope to finalize plans with a donor in that time.”

Besides the question of funds, many are wondering if the Wellness Center will even have the green light to expand, based on the recent decision by the Coral Gables Planning and Zoning Board to strike down other plans for expansions on the Coral Gables campus.

“It looks like it’s moving foward,” Parsons said. “It’s my understanding that if you do a renovation less than 20 percent of the total square footage, it’s ok.”

The Wellness Center is currently 120,000 square feet. The 17,000 to 18,000 square-foot expansion is within the 24,000-foot maximum of 20 percent.

Students seem to be in agreement about the Wellness Center renovation

“I love the gym,” said sophomore Tyler Noyes. “But I’m very excited to see the improvements.”

Veronica Sepe may be contacted at v.sepe@umiami.edu.