The effort to create a new fitness center on the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith campus began in 2013 with a group of students wanting to make a change. And those efforts culminated in a groundbreaking April 15 on the southwest corner of campus for the university’s newest building -- the Recreation and Wellness Center.
Construction will begin on the student-initiated and student-approved facility this summer, and it will be located at the corner of Kinkead Ave. and North 51st St. The 47,000 square-foot center will feature a rock climbing wall, two basketball courts, four volleyball courts, and additional space for multipurpose use.
“This new center will provide more square footage, more facilities, and additional studios that will be used simultaneously between intramurals, fitness classes, and our students,” said Dr. Paul B. Beran, UAFS chancellor.
The ceremony took place in the Gymnasium on the UAFS campus and marked the culmination of a two-year effort by students to construct a new facility following numerous requests from the student body asking for an improved fitness center.
Beran recounted the story of the center’s conception during his remarks at the ceremony. The university’s Student Government Association spearheaded the initiative to build the new wellness center in 2013, passing a resolution in support of a self-imposed fee of $5 per semester credit hour to fund the facility’s construction.
But when SGA brought the proposal to the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees, the board requested a more broad-based demonstration of support for the facility. SGA held a special election for students to vote on the fee, and the vote passed.
The students returned to the UA System Board of Trustees in March 2014, and the board questioned the students again about the necessity of the building.
“After the students answered some tough questions, the Board passed their proposal,” Beran said. “And when we stepped into the hallway afterwards, I told them ‘Congratulations. You just broke your first $11 million deal.’”
Beran ended his speech by lauding the efforts of the students involved.
“The story behind the center’s creation is a fitting manifestation of the drive and dedication of our students who will use the building,” Beran said. “These students ran a great campaign, and I couldn’t be more proud to stand in front of you today and tell you this story. It’s a story I’ve told many times before, and it’s a story I’ll tell many times again.”
SGA President Annsley Garner of Greenwood and SGA Secretary Nawar Hudefi of Fort Smith, president and secretary of SGA, spoke following Dr. Beran, where they recounted the story from their perspective and emphasized the importance and necessity of the building.
Following the students’ remarks, Meighan Pendergrass, director of campus recreation and wellness at UAFS, stressed the impact of the facility on the campus.
“This building is sure to help us attract and retain the best and the brightest students -- from our region, our state, and beyond,” Pendergrass said. “Beyond the Bell Tower, this new Recreation and Wellness Center will become the focal point for our students and campus life.”
Dr. Lee Krehbiel, vice chancellor for student affairs at UAFS, gave a welcome to open the ceremony, and also gave the closing remarks. Following that, a procession moved across the street to the future site of the center to toss dirt to conclude the ceremony.
The university plans to open the facility in fall 2016.