By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — With a big smile on her face, Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, welcomed guests to the homecoming weekend dedication of the new Wellness and Recreation Center. The St. Ambrose University president said it was an historic occasion as this new center — the largest single philanthropic capital project in the university’s 135 years —had become a reality.
The new wellness and recreation center, which cost $21.5 million to build and furnish, was dedicated Sept. 29. The facility fulfills a longstanding strategic goal for St. Ambrose and was identified as the highest priority in a 10-year master plan approved by the Board of Trustees in 2011. Ground was broken in April 2016. The new facility is connected with the PE Center, which includes Lee Lohman Arena.
“We know that the Wellness and Recreation Center will help to make a stronger St. Ambrose and in turn, a stronger community,” Sr. Lescinski said. Brian Lemek, ’86, a campaign co-chair, noted that the campus residential population has more than doubled since the Physical Education Center was constructed in 1983. “And the number of athletic teams has grown from eight to 26 in that time.” He said $17.7 million has been raised toward the $18.5 million goal. “We are so encouraged by the support for this project and are confident that we will achieve our fundraising goal.”
Bishop Thomas Zinkula, who chairs the St. Ambrose Board of Trustees and leads the Diocese of Davenport, blessed the new facility. “With thanks to God for the hard work and generosity of so many in the St. Ambrose community, we have gathered today to bless and dedicate this Wellness and Recreation Center. This building stands as a testimony of our commitment here to form the whole person: body, mind and spirit. And so friends, let us ask God to pour out his blessings upon all who will enter this place for the building of their bodies, the focusing of their minds and the lifting of their spirits.”
He sprinkled holy water over the crowd and the field house space.
During a press tour earlier in the week, Mike Poster, St. Ambrose’s vice president of finance, said the school has come a long way from gym to wellness center. The first on-campus gym — 50 feet by 20 feet — was called “Play Hall” back in 1888.
When Poster entered St. Ambrose College as a student in 1984, the school had already outgrown its new PE Center.
The new wellness center is 80,000 square feet. Its primary uses are exercise and activity space for students, faculty and staff; wellness and recreation department activities and intramural athletics; classroom and lab space for health and wellness-related academic programs and practice space for student athletes.
Jamie Loftus, vice president of enrollment management, said St. Ambrose is committed to mind, body and spirit. This is a tremendous addition and can help recruit and retain students at St. Ambrose. Sandra Cassady, vice president for strategic initiatives, said the new classrooms and lab are assets to the increasing enrollment in kinesiology, which includes sports management, exercise science and human performance and fitness. The lab provides opportunities for students to study human motion.
Andy Milton, director of wellness and recreation, said the center, especially the recreational cardio and weight training center, is busy from the time it opens until it closes each day.
In the second-floor kinesiology laboratory, students Emily Studt and Emma Peeler said the larger room allows for more flexibility and avoids the constant need to move around between learning new material and using the lab. Various exercise machines in the room can analyze aerobic and anaerobic performance.
Twyla Pereira of Long Grove, Ill., said the fitness room was a much needed addition. Previously, the fitness class she teaches — cardio dance — had to rotate between a room in Hayes Hall and a room in the Rogalski Center. “Students gave up trying to figure out where they needed to be,” she said. The Hayes Hall room was so small that it couldn’t accommodate the entire class. Attendance this year has nearly doubled since the move to the new center.
The athletics weight training room got a makeover in the old PE Center. Caio Mesquita of Campinas, Brazil, said it is much more professional and oriented for sports athletes. Katie Thielen of Elbrun, Ill., said the room isn’t so crammed and since it is for athletes only, there isn’t as much waiting time for equipment.
The former racquetball courts have been converted into offices for athletics, except for football.
The biggest room of the new center is the 56,000-square foot field house. Milton said more intramural sports can be played and multiple practices and games can be played at the same time. The room features an indoor track, which Jennifer Lopez of Elgin, Ill, is excited about. The 2016 Women’s Indoor National Champion in the 3K Race/Walk and five-time All-American, said the track team has a practice place and a true home for meets. Before, the track team had to roll out flooring in the St. Ambrose Dome and put up cones to create a single lane. The new facility has six lanes for running, as well as room for other field events. Home meets used to be held in Sterling, Ill., because of lack of space. “We usually only had three teams show up.” She thinks the new facility will attract more schools to St. Ambrose meets. “There should be some good competition.”
Alex Bala of Batavia, Ill., says the new facility is amazing. With the resilient floor area, a variety of intramural events can be going on, even pickup games of basketball. The wood floor will be used for volleyball and basketball practices and some junior varsity games. “This is perfect.”