State-of-the-art. Award winning. Innovative. These are all terms used to describe the new Student Wellness Complex at the University of North Florida.
A decade ago, UNF’s campus was outdated. Established in 1972, UNF’s first buildings were built like fortresses with concrete and brick and very few windows. Today, it has emerged from its 1970s roots in brutalism architecture and is shining in the 21st century. Since 2003, the campus has been undergoing an aggressive construction program under the leadership of former Jacksonville mayor John Delaney, the University’s President.
Zak Ovadia, Director of Campus Planning, says, “The new philosophy was one of sustainability and environmental stewardship.” The vision included “making the campus more people-friendly, increasing open spaces, and allowing natural light into buildings.”
Since 2004, eleven new buildings on campus have been built that the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has awarded Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. The newest addition to these green buildings, completed in 2012, is the Student Wellness Complex.
Designing a Dream Wellness Complex
The former wellness center was an outdated 10,000 sq. ft. box. “We needed something bigger, something better, fitting in with the expectations of the students,” Ovadia says.
The university allocated $4.5 million to renovate the existing facility. But as planning got underway, Becky Purser, Director of Campus Recreation, says, “We agreed to design for the future and realized that $4.5 million was not going to build what the students wanted.”
“The students dreamed of a new facility dedicated to fitness,” says Jim Baur, Facility Manager of the Student Wellness Complex. The Student Government voted on and created a $3-per-credit-hour student wellness fee dedicated to recreation. They bonded the fee to raise the additional $15 million needed to build a new facility.
UNF then hired the architecture team Borrelli & Partners and PSA-Dewberry to design the facility. A project committee with representatives from such groups as Student Government, Student Affairs and the Department of Recreation worked with the consultants to identify program needs.
The results, says Ovadia, “was a design that not only the students liked, but was appropriate for the campus.”
The building has been called contemporary, eclectic and distinctive.
It has also been described as an “abstract bird in flight,” says Baur. The shape of the building evokes the shape of an osprey, UNF’s mascot. “It is flying east with its wings tucked back.”
“The beak of the osprey is projecting from the third level,” says Ovadia. The osprey’s wings are depicted by “the sweep of the glazing curves from one level to another.” Glazing is a general architectural term for adding glass to a façade.
The glass has multiple purposes. Besides architectural imagery, it provides the contemporary look the architects were aiming for. It allows natural light inside and provides vast views of the campus.
“The design was driven by the students’ perception that they needed a wow factor, an iconic building,” says Ovadia. The consultants took that concept and tried to design the building to complement other nearby buildings, such as the Student Union.
Purser and Baur both agreed that the architects truly listened and delivered what they wanted. Purser says, “I love the shape of the building. I love the shape of the indoor track (created by the shape of the building). You don’t feel like a rat going around a circle because it has curves and interest, and the windows provide great views.”
LEED the Way
The USGBC sets the standard for sustainable building construction with their LEED certification system. This year, the Student Wellness Complex received LEED-Gold certification, one of the highest rankings offered, being only second to Platinum certification.
It earned this honor for a variety of reasons. The complex is flooded with natural light. The result, Ovadia says, “is less energy usage since we don’t have to turn the lights on.” Also increasing energy efficiency in the mechanical system, which has a heat recovery wheel, and specialty ceiling fans placed high in the facility. The Macro Air fans prevent stratification of temperatures. These are very large fans that Baur describes as “low speed, high volume.” Baur says, “Each one pushes as much air as 70 conventional ceiling fans.”
Non-toxic treatments to the interior surfaces also bolstered the LEED rating. The glues and paints used are free of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), harmful chemicals that give off a distinct odor. No products were applied to the concrete slab in the common hall; instead the floor was polished to shine. Other green flooring choices include the rubber floor in the fitness area, which was made from recycled shoes from the Nike Grind program. Nike Grind is Nike’s way of closing the loop on the life cycle of its shoes. The rubber surface is perfect for a gym floor. Besides being green, it’s cool, absorbs sound and takes the impact from weights and machines.
One of the coolest aspects of this visionary facility is the hydration stations. Located throughout the complex, each station features a water bottle fill up spout with a digital display showing how many water bottles have been saved from the landfill.
An “Out of the Classroom” Experience
The Student Wellness Complex has a distinctive new presence on campus. It has created a hub of activity in combination with the Student Union across the street.
Students, faculty and staff have the privilege to use the facility for free. For a small fee, alumni and family members can also use the facility. They can climb the Osprey Cliff, run the indoor track or take a Zumba class.
In total, the new building is 75,000 square feet with 27,000 square feet dedicated to fitness. Baur explains, “The architectural rule of thumb for a fitness facility is one square foot of space per student.” That means that the facility is suitable for a student population of 27,000. With only a currently enrollment of about 17,000 students, the facility will keep UNF’s students “crossprey fit” well into the future.