Rec & Sports » Rec Features

Not Just For Dumbells

Climbing the walls at Boise State's Rec Center


Five years after the building's dedication, the Boise State Student Recreation Center is a hub of student activity on campus. Throughout the two-story facility, students and faculty sweat it out on cardio equipment, burn a few calories in a group exercise class and even take moment to congregate, socialize and relax.

Opened in the fall of 2002, the 86,000-square-foot building has been praised nationwide for its economical use of space. In addition to basketball and racquetball courts, free weights and cardio equipment, the facility also houses an indoor running track, classrooms, the university's Outdoor Program headquarters and what was the largest collegiate climbing wall in the United States at the time of its construction.

The Campus Recreation department offers close to 60 intramural and club sports, 50 classes every week for group exercise, and a variety of support services that include personal trainers, nutritionists and a "Rec Response Team" for injury assessment and treatment. In the five years since its opening, director Jennifer Nigrini estimates the Rec Center is one of the top three student employers on campus and that 50 percent of all students visit the Rec Center at least once in a school year. In addition, close to 25 percent of Boise State faculty and staff have memberships to use the facility. As integral to the campus as the rec center now is, it's difficult to imagine a student body as large as Boise State's not having access to such a facility. However, were it not for a group of persistent fitness-minded students in the '90s, Boise State might not have a rec center at all.

Prior to the construction of the center in 2002, Boise State's rec programs and fitness facilities were strewn across campus in various buildings. Availability of all the facilities and equipment was limited to only a few spotty hours a day when classes weren't in session.

According to Nigrini, the priority of rec facilities and equipment went first to kinesiology programs, then to varsity athletics and finally to student rec purposes.

"You didn't just stumble across [rec facilities] before," says Nigrini. Students had to know not only where they were going, but had to be dedicated to endure the chaotic hours facilities were available. "Students wanted a place where recreation was first. They wanted to be able to come to a place and do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted."

In the 1994-1995 school year, a group of students petitioned the administration to build a campus recreation center. The administration denied the request. When the students returned to the administration the next year, their request was better researched and prepared.

"The students did the leg work to get support and to research how much money they needed to build the facility," explains Nigrini.

The students proposed a $65 increase in student fees to fund the $12 million building. This time, the administration agreed, but grudgingly. A $17 increase was approved that year, with the administration promising another $17 each year for the next three years if the students continued to return with support for the center's construction.

Nigrini arrived at Boise State as only the second full-time recreation employee in 1996. That year, the administration approved a $24 increase in student fees for the rec center and by the next year, had agreed to the full $65 increase originally proposed.

"It really was the incredible tenacity on the part of a group of students to bring about the Rec Center," says Nigrini. "I've been here 11 years, and I've never seen another issue students have held onto that long."

Now, students not only have a place where recreation is the priority, but policies are in place regulating how often and how many facilities—like basketball and racquetball courts—can be rented out or closed to students.

From the gated entry point on the center's first floor, visitors can see almost the entire facility. Wander the halls, and you'll see students playing table tennis in the hall or lounging in one of the clusters of chairs and couches. The idea is that the rec center, like the Student Union Building, offers students a place just to hang out with other students. It's a theme congruent throughout departments all over campus—the more active students are on campus, the more likely they are to enjoy their college experience.

As well as fostering a closer relationship between the university and current students (not to mention future alumni), Nigrini says a top-notch rec center and a well-developed intramural sports program are major attractions for new students and key to retaining current students.

"I think it was a hugely needed component," she explains. "Before the rec center opened, we had no fitness program at all and no club sports, but for the last four years, we've been growing at breakneck speeds. Now, our next direction is balancing out in other areas of the university and community that a rec center typically wouldn't be heading in."

One of those goals is to improve alumni relationships with Campus Recreation. Current members of the Alumni Association are able to use the Student Recreation Center for an annual fee, however, Nigrini says the rec center is hoping for more alumni involvement. In its Alumni Adventures program, Campus Recreation and the Alumni Association pair up for alumni field trips focused on recreation. For example, after the Washington Huskies game in Seattle this weekend, Boise State alumni can join a sailing trip through Puget Sound. Another less traditional focus for the rec center is working more closely with orientation programs for first-year students to offer a four-day outdoor orientation program. Giving back to students is even on the rec center's to-do list. In April, the rec center hosts a 5K "Beat Coach Pete" race, the proceeds of which fund student scholarships. Along more traditional lines, Nigrini says the Student Recreation Center will hopefully be adding a pool within the next eight months.

And despite the ever-expanding opportunities for play at the recreation center, Nigrini says an important component of what Campus Recreation does is continue the education process.

"We spend a lot of time and effort educating student employees," stresses Nigrini. "We provide a billion opportunities for students to move up and get on-the-job training." Whether students are majoring in kinesiology and work in the Rec Response unit learning the basics of athletic training, or students want to become certified as a personal trainer for supplemental income, Campus Recreation offers a variety of job training.

From the outside, Boise State's Student Recreation Center may just look like a gym. Less apparent at first glace is Campus Recreation's goals to further the educational process socially, physically and practically. Besides, where on campus other than the weight room can a student show up a cranky professor?

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