Rec centers are wooing students

Friday, April 8, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:15 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

AKRON, Ohio — Dominic Mann had been considering attending the University of Akron when he saw the school’s new $40 million recreation center.

The expansive center’s basketball gym and weight equipment — even a rock-climbing wall — helped Mann decide to attend Akron.

“It made a difference,” the 19-year-old freshman said as he shot hoops at the center.

Colleges around the country are touting their recreation centers, or plans for one, to prospective students to stand out in the competition for applicants.

The trend is the latest in recent years in which universities attempt to attract students with various perks, such as dormitories with suites, private bathrooms and cable television.

According to the Corvallis, Ore.-based National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association, 333 of 700 colleges and universities are building or expanding recreation centers, or plan to soon.

MU opened its renovated rec center in January. The project began in spring 2003 and cost $49 million. It features three levels of themed décor, such as a street scene as part of the ground level’s “Downtown Brewer” and tiki torches for the “Jungle Gym.” The additions also included new televisions, a climbing wall and more cardiovascular and weight-training machines.

There’s plenty of evidence that students pay attention when a campus builds or upgrades its recreation center.

Indiana University said an independent student survey showed 87 percent of its students were involved in some recreational sports activity. Seventy-nine percent said it was important to their campus experience, said Kathy Bayless, director of campus recreational sports.

The culture change on campus can be dramatic with a new recreation center.

The University of Michigan just completed $4 million in upgrades to its four recreation centers. At the center that got the most improvements, visitors increased 66 percent to 45,000 in January compared to January 2004.

Recreation centers can also serve as an additional social setting.

Misssourian staff contributed to this report.

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