Design plans in the works for Wellness Center expansion

SARA BERTSCH Editor-in-Chief

Wellness Center Phase II is underway with potential plans to include an extended track, another dance studio, racquetball courts and an outdoor pursuit center.

This week the architecture team visited campus to discuss design plans with students and faculty. The architect team consists of HOK, based out of Kansas City, and Stone Group Architects out of Sioux Falls. HOK, a national firm, specializes in recreation and fitness facilities.

According to Jeff Huskey, the Wellness Center director, the expansion is in the programming phase. This phase involves student and faculty input about features they would like to see in the design, slowly narrowing it down. 

“We are in the dreaming phase right now and the way it sits in the design is, it is everything that we want,” said Caleb Finck, president of the Students’ Association. “If we wanted everything in the world, that’s what it would be.”

The expansion will double the Wellness Center footprint with 63,000 square feet of fitness space, but 81,000 square feet of new space. It will expand to the north, taking about half of the green space that sits there. 

“We’re keeping in mind that although we’re focused right now on Phase II, that someday there will be a Phase III,” Huskey said. “We’re kind of holding some of that space for that and building this expansion with that in mind.” 

The estimated cost of the Wellness Center expansion stands around $15 million for construction costs. After adding in the “soft costs,” it could total around $19 or $20 million.

Soft costs include items that will go into the facility, such as new fitness equipment, fixtures, furniture, but will also include required fees such as architect fees and engineering fees. 

A large majority of the funding for the multi-million dollar expansion is coming from the General Activity Fee. The GAF is a per credit hour fee imposed by the university. It primarily pays for things that are student-focused.

The GAF saw an increase of $5.90 over the past year, $4.50 of which went specifically toward the Wellness Center expansion.

The nearly $6 increase was distributed among several university entities. A $4.50 credit hour increase was allocated for the Wellness Center expansion. An additional $.10 was given to club sports and $.90 to career development and office of student engagement.

The $4.50 per credit hour increase in the GAF beginning in fiscal year 2016 would produce about $1.2 million annually toward resources needed for construction. 

With the large increase going toward the expansion, Huskey has promised several features to students. Promised features include four basketball courts, double the size of the fitness floor, two racquetball courts, two new studios, an extended track and an outdoor pursuit center. 

The outdoor pursuit center is a new program that will replace the Outback Jacks, a student organization that fizzled out, Huskey said. They plan to resurrect it and make it into a program similar to an intramural program. 

The outdoor center will have outing trips such as rock climbing, canoeing, skiing where students can learn these activities. They will also have equipment available for check out.

The outdoor pursuits program will begin next fall semester, even if the construction has not begun on the expansion.

As far as a timeline, there are no specific dates set. 

Depending on donors, Finck and Huskey hope they can go to the South Dakota Board of Regents with approval at their April meeting. They need the plans and funding approved by the SDBOR before they can move on with construction. 

According to Huskey, the next step is the schematic phase prior to the SDBOR meeting. This phase entails the actual expansion floor plans and blueprints. 

The earliest that construction can begin for the expansion is September of 2016. After that it will take around 12 to 15 months before completion. 

“The analogy I like to get is we start in a liquid state and we want to eventually get into concrete so right now we are in a Jell-o state,” Huskey said. “We’re still kind of squishy and not quite firmed up. We are on our way to getting firmed up and concrete.”

During this time, there are no plans to shut down the building. They plan to keep the building open during the construction process, however there will be days when parts of the building will need to be shut down because of safety concerns. Huskey said they will try to do this work over holidays and weekends.