Elon University Campus Recreation and Wellness plans to begin the 2021-2022 academic year with a new outdoor fitness center, no reservation times and no group fitness class fees.

Construction on the center is set to begin at the end of July and finish right before the academic year begins in August.

The center is located at the site of the old Elon Elementary School across the street from the East Neighborhood. It is part of the Innovation Quad, a piece from the 10-year Boldly Elon strategic plan that is currently under construction. 

Director of Campus Recreation and Wellness Larry Mellinger said the outdoor fitness center is a “pretty dynamic space.”

“It's going to be another opportunity for us to continue to expand fitness options across campus,” Mellinger said.

The court is designed by a company called the National Fitness Campaign with a focus on functional fitness, or training that prepares the body for real-life movements and activities. The court will be fully-equipped with items meant for agility and core work. 

Mellinger said moving group fitness classes outdoors last year added a different element to campus fitness opportunities and eased student concerns regarding COVID-19. He hopes this continues with the new center.

“We still might have students that are coming back to campus that aren't that comfortable coming indoors for their fitness opportunities,” Mellinger said. “Both in the short term and the long term, this facility is going to give us a lot of great opportunities to continue to provide places and spaces for students to be active, be healthy, and just get involved.”

Campus Recreation and Wellness will use resources from the National Fitness Campaign to equip the center. QR codes for students to scan will provide videos made by RecWell staff that teach students how to use different aspects of the facility. Mellinger said his staff is working this summer to ensure there are resources available for users with all different levels of experience.

“I think the first time folks walk out there, like anytime you experience something that you've never used, there's going to be a little bit of an intimidation factor behind it.”

Mellinger said the center plans to have open hours and hold exercise classes. Campus Recreation and Wellness personal trainers will also be allowed to take clients to the center. He hopes to partner with different campus organizations and residence halls to hold community-building activities there as well.

Years in the making

The center came as a result of Residence Life wanting to make improvements to areas within each residential neighborhood during the 2018-2019 academic year. The Residence Life budget was limited, but former resident assistant and member of the Student Government Association Jonathan Stettler ‘21 had the idea to apply for their requests using SGA’s reserve funds. 

The money couldn’t be given to individual neighborhoods but it could be allocated as neighborhood needs. Even though they figured out the best way to use the funding, the budget itself took much longer to complete.

Legislation was passed that same year that established the outdoor renovation committee, which allocated $300,000 for the improvement requests. The committee is composed of representatives from Residence Life, Campus Recreation and Wellness, and Physical Plant, as well as campus architects. 

Being that it's an SGA committee, they wanted a member of the SGA executive board included. This was previously Stettler but is now Executive President Jack Corby. For every voting member of the committee that is part of one of those areas, there is a faculty or staff member and a student from those areas to vote on the committee.

The committee looked at the Boldly Elon strategic plan as it was released and realized a section of the plan aligned with what they were trying to achieve. 

Funding for the center comes from SGA’s reserve funds. With the concrete path, lighting and the court itself, the project totals almost $200,000. This includes a $30,000 grant from the National Fitness Campaign and a $30,000 investment from the Office of Student Life.

Even though Stettler graduated, he said seeing the work he’s done come to life is exciting and hopeful.

“The whole point of joining SGA in the first place was to make a lasting impact on campus and I feel like this is something that will be the fitness center will be there for probably 20 more years,” Stettler said. “It's really exciting to see such a big impact going on to campus that will help improve so many students' lives on a daily basis.”

Slow summer allows for preparation

“August and September are our January,” Mellinger said. “There's excitement about a new academic year, people want to start the year off with healthy habits and a lot of balance, and we certainly support and advocate for that.”

Mellinger said RecWell facilities average between 30 to 40 uses a day in the summer, but 1,000 to 1,100 a day in a normal September. Even though numbers are considerably smaller in the summer, the slower season allows Mellinger and his staff to prepare by doing things like placing equipment back where it was before COVID-19 guidelines.

“As we're getting back to semi-normal operations in our facilities, it has been nice to do it with a smaller group of folks this summer,” Mellinger said.

He said RecWell is looking at opportunities to introduce their facilities, programs and services to freshmen, but they are also focusing on reaching out to the sophomore class who has yet to see RecWell operate at full capacity. 

Campus Recreation and Wellness is planning for a full slate of facilities, programs and services for the fall semester, but they are considering CDC, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and local and campus guidelines in everything they do. 

Lessons learned

A reservation system for the fitness centers, racquetball and squash courts is no longer in place  and Mellinger “does not anticipate” it will be for the fall, however all other Elon University health and safety guidelines apply in all RecWell facilities. The policy was a restriction students struggled with during the 2020-21 academic year. 

“I'm particularly excited about our 11 outdoors programs, getting back to doing overnight and more extended trips and club sports being able to practice regularly and compete and host tournaments and travel, as well as a really robust intramural sports,” Mellinger said.

He said RecWell noticed that Elon students enjoyed having fitness classes outdoors last year and they plan to continue holding classes in the studios and outside weather permitting. The group fitness class fee was waived last year due to COVID-19, and Mellinger said the previous limited access was a lesson learned.

“We're trying to remove barriers wherever we can and some of those are financial,” Mellinger said. “Taking away the group exercise passed last year was the right move and we realize that's going to be a permanent part of what we do.”

Current policy

Those who are fully vaccinated and are comfortable removing masks are not required to wear a mask inside any RecWell facility. Those not vaccinated are not required to wear a mask while in the pool or showers, but are required to wear a mask in other locations in the facility, including the pool deck and locker rooms.

Summer hours of operation are in effect until Aug. 19.