GALLERY: Rec Center renovations provide students new opportunities

Members of the NKU swim team stand at the edge of a brand new, 375,000-gallon pool before their weekly practice. As they prepare to begin their activities, a member is pushed into the pool, and the rest of the team follows.

For the swim club, it hasn’t always been as fun trying to use the pool. In fact, sometimes they were lucky if they were even able to get their feet wet in NKU’s old aquatics facility.

Classie Powell, president of the NKU swim club, pushes fellow club member Jackson Medley into the pool, where he is soon joined by her and the rest of the club.

“We had to compete with high school teams for pool time in the old facility,” junior Ania Zmyslo, vice president of the swim club, said. “There wasn’t enough room for everyone so we would have to leave and come back later or only swim for a half-hour.”

“It was just so frustrating not being able to swim when we wanted to,” Powell said.

The swim club now has a home in the new recreation center. The $48 million renovation and expansion includes a new eight-lane, 25-meter lap pool. The team practices there every Monday afternoon. Now the team can focus more on enjoying the sport instead of finding a time to swim.

“We love the new center,” Zmyslo said. “It’s really helped us to just do our thing.”

NKU celebrated the official grand opening of the facility on Nov. 11.

The new rec center is equipped with the new pool, six basketball courts, an indoor soccer and floor hockey field, several multi-purpose rooms and an expanded weight room area.

The goal of the whole renovation project, according to Matthew Hackett, director of campus recreation for NKU, was to build a center that students want to use.

“The openness and natural lighting just make it so much more inviting,” Hackett said. “We managed to get everything the students requested in the facility and we’ve had a great response.”

Since August, the rec center has seen about 50,000 students come through the door, 40 percent more than this time last year.

An average of 1,500 students use the facility every day, more than any other year according to Hackett.

This includes Marissa Donaldson, president of NKU’s Vertical Frontier Climbing Club. Donaldson, a senior environmental science major, was first introduced to the sport three years ago by a friend at Purdue University. She fell in love with the sport immediately.

She joined the club in 2012, and since then she and 15 other close friends have been climbing in facilities around Greater Cincinnati, including the University of Cincinnati. They have traveled south to scale the famous cliffs at Red River Gorge in Eastern Kentucky.   

“Rock climbing has some kind of intimacy to it,” Donaldson said. “You have to trust these people to pull you. We are kind of a big family.”

Part of NKU’s renovations included installing a bouldering wall inside the rec center, which will open shortly after the grand opening, something Donaldson has been waiting for a long time.

“When I heard NKU was getting a rock wall, it was like a dream come true,” Donaldson said, staring up at the wall. “I will be in here every day no matter what.”

Along with the new space for clubs, the rec center hosted the first Black and Gold day of the year. The event gave new recruits a first look at the state of the art facility and a first glance at what they can participate in on campus and how their life could be like at NKU.

Hackett believes the new renovations are expected to have a major impact on recruiting as well. He thinks having an improved center will have a positive impact on not only the number of students attending NKU, but also the number of students who stay at the university.

In fact, John Miller, associate dean and professor in the college of Health and Human Services at Troy University, wrote that student use of campus recreation facilities influences the retention of first-year students.

“This will be one of the premier facilities in the country when it is fully completed,” Hackett said. “Folks are looking for high quality social campus life and we hope it encourages people to come to campus here.”

Hackett’s goal is to have students enjoy the new center, that they helped design, as much as possible.

“I hope it’s what the students envisioned it to be,” Hackett said.

There are several additions still left to be installed into the center. A ropes course will also be built outside behind the center, along with a new sand volleyball court that will be available for all students to use.

“We still have a few surprises left for the grand opening,” Hackett said.

As for Donaldson, she still plans to be a part of the rec center and the university after she graduates in the spring, now that the rock wall has been installed.

“It’s really nice to have my own home gym,” Donaldson said. “ It’s with my NKU friends and it would be awesome to come back and be an alumni.”

Before that happens, Donaldson still has one major goal left to conquer.

“My dream is to host NKU’s first ever bouldering competition in the spring that benefits the university and is a fundraiser for our club,” Donaldson said.

Meanwhile, Zmyslo and the eight members of the swim club are looking to add more members to the club, so they can apply to become an official NKU club. Once they reach official club status, they will secure pool time for the club once and for all.

“We need 10 to have an official club, but we would love to have many more people come and swim with us,” Zmyslo said.