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University of Houston opens 'game changer' wellness center at downtown campus

Sports and Recreational Facilities

University of Houston opens 'game changer' wellness center at downtown campus

The new $39 million, 75,000-sf Wellness & Success Center creates a dynamic campus core for the University of Houston-Downtown.


By Peter Fabris, Contributing Editor  | February 1, 2023
University of Houston-Downtown Wellness & Success Center - Photo by Mitchell Loper
Designed by SmithGroup in association with HarrisonKornberg Architects and built by Vaughn Construction, the $39 million, 75,000-sf facility not only expands UHD’s footprint and visibility, it also establishes a dynamic core and recognizable landmark for fostering and nurturing an on-campus community. Photo: Mitchell Loper

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) recently opened its new Wellness & Success Center (WSC). The $39 million, 75,000-sf facility greatly improves the quality of the school’s exercise programs and areas dedicated to them. It also establishes a dynamic core and recognizable landmark for fostering and nurturing an on-campus community, according to a news release from SmithGroup, which designed the building along with HarrisonKornberg Architects.

The facility includes fitness and recreational amenities such as sports courts, a strength training area, cardio and group fitness studios, and an elevated track. The center also features a demonstration kitchen, where students can cook and learn about nutrition, and a student lounge space that is vital to building community on what is largely a commuter campus.

Constrained by a floodplain, the entire building had to be elevated 10 feet above grade. With its bold architecture, the center brings a sense of place to the urban campus. Located on the western edge of the campus, the Center is bordered by the White Oak Bayou Greenway to the west, the I-10 interstate expansion project to the north, and the existing College of Sciences & Technology (CST) building to the southeast. The three-story volume matches the adjacent CST Building and minimizes the building footprint to preserve open space for future expansion.

The building’s transparent, three-story entrance with a prominent overhang canopy faces the Bayou Trail, a part of the Campus Loop pedestrian route, and the Marilyn Davies College of Business. The synergy of entry plazas between the CST and wellness center establishes a landmark for the growing campus.

The lobby leads to a student lounge area with seating for socializing and casual study. It flows into an outdoor terrace that capitalizes on the building’s best downtown views. Students can also prepare food and share a meal in the adjacent community kitchen or find respite in the quiet spaces of the wellness suite.

University of Houston-Downtown Wellness & Success Center - Photo by Mitchell Loper 4.jpg
Photo by Mitchell Loper

'Game changing' wellness center will create new campus core 

Beyond the locker rooms, fitness amenities fill three floors: strength training and conditioning on the first level, personal workout areas and cardio equipment on the second level, and group studios on the third. Ample fenestration brings in natural light and offers visual connections among fitness areas, the central lobby area, and the outdoors. On the building’s north end, a two-story bay houses three sports courts ringed with an elevated track, supporting the school’s strong basketball culture and buffering the site from the future location of I-10.

The new facility has the capacity to serve more than double the number of students compared to the previous facility.

"The Wellness & Success Center will be a game changer in terms of the greater quality and space of exercise facilities and programs that will be available for the University community," said Richard Sebastiani, UHD Director of Sports and Fitness, in a press statement. "It also demonstrates UHD’s commitment to student wellness on campus. We expect the center to make a positive impact on student recruitment and retention in addition to improving the quality of student life on campus."

On the project team:
Owner and/or developer: University of Houston-Downtown
Design architect: SmithGroup in association with HarrisonKornberg Architects
MEP engineer: SmithGroup
Structural engineer: Martinez Moore
General contractor/construction manager: Vaughn Construction

Here is the press statement from the university:

On the cusp of its 50th anniversary, the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) ushered in a new era today with the official opening of its Wellness & Success Center (WSC). Designed by SmithGroup in association with HarrisonKornberg Architects and built by Vaughn Construction, the $39 million, 75,000-square-foot facility not only expands UHD’s footprint and visibility, it also establishes a dynamic core and recognizable landmark for fostering and nurturing an on-campus community.

Today’s ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at 10 a.m. with remarks by UHD’s President Loren J. Blanchard, Director of Sports & Fitness Richard Sebastiani, and Student Government Association President Jesus Nieto; University of Houston System (UHS) Regent John A. McCall, Jr. and Vice Chancellor of Governmental Relations Jason Smith; and Representative Mary Ann Perez. Lynette Cook-Francis, Interim Vice President, Student Success and Student Life, emceed the event. Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia was also in attendance. The Houston Rockets enlivened the event with interactive activities and giveaways in the Center’s gym.

"The reality is that the name of this building is synergistic in nature," stated Blanchard. "We are focused on the wellness of our students because we know that their success depends upon all of their basic needs, including physical and mental well-being, being met. They are much more likely to graduate, experience socioeconomic mobility, and, ultimately, become leaders in their professions and communities by living healthy lifestyles."


Related: How wellness is reshaping college recreation centers


Blanchard continued, "The opening of the Wellness & Success Center advances not only student well-being and success at UHD, but also the physical and mental wellness of our faculty, staff, alumni, and community members. I could not be more pleased that student advocacy and support helped to bring this important addition to our campus to fruition, and I look forward to seeing our student body take full advantage of this wonderful facility."

"The Wellness & Success Center will be a game changer in terms of the greater quality and space of exercise facilities and programs that will be available for the University community," added Richard Sebastiani, UHD Director of Sports and Fitness. "It also demonstrates UHD’s commitment to student wellness on campus. We expect the Center to make a positive impact on student recruitment and retention in addition to improving the quality of student life on campus."

University of Houston-Downtown Wellness & Success Center - Photo by Mitchell Loper.jpg
Photo by Mitchell Loper

In the near future, affiliates and friends of the University will be eligible to purchase half-year or annual memberships to the Center. "As we aspire to be an Anchor Institution, we know that the Wellness & Success Center will play a major role in solidifying UHD’s relationship with not only those who live and work in Downtown, but also those living in the communities surrounding our campus," said Blanchard.

With its bold architecture, the Center brings a sense of place to the urban campus. Located on the western edge of the campus, the Center is bordered by the White Oak Bayou Greenway to the west, the I-10 interstate expansion project to the north, and the existing College of Sciences & Technology (CST) building to the southeast.

The building’s transparent, three-story entrance with a prominent overhang canopy faces the Bayou Trail, a part of the Campus Loop pedestrian route, and the Marilyn Davies College of Business on the other side of Main Street. The Center pairs extremely well with the adjacent CST building, which opened in 2019. The synergy of entry plazas between the two buildings establishes a landmark for the growing campus.

The grand entrance welcomes visitors, rewarding them with outstanding views of the Downtown skyline once inside. The three-story lobby leads to a student lounge area with seating for socializing and casual study. It flows into an outdoor terrace that capitalizes on the building’s best Downtown views. Students can also prepare food and share a meal in the adjacent community kitchen or find respite in the quiet spaces of the wellness suite.

Beyond the locker rooms, fitness amenities fill three floors: strength training and conditioning on the first level, personal workout areas and cardio equipment on the second level, and group studios on the third. Ample use of glass brings in natural light and offers visual connections among fitness areas, the central lobby area and the outdoors. On the building’s north end, a two-story bay houses three sports courts ringed with an elevated indoor track. The Center also houses three times the number of pieces of equipment as before, a customized bouldering wall, a demonstration kitchen for nutrition workshops, massage/personal training spaces and a parking garage.
 
Fun facts surrounding the design and construction of the Center include:

  • Roughly 650 tons of structural steel, 6,400 yards of concrete, and 475 tons of rebar were used in the Center’s construction.
  • The gymnasium includes eight long-span trusses, each measuring 99 feet in length, that were all delivered and erected in one piece!
  • The elevated indoor running track on the second floor is open to the three-court, first-floor gym below for a great view.
  • The new facility has the capacity to serve more than double the number of students compared to the previous facility.
  • The east façade and elevated track "push" toward the bayous to maximize the new greenway and create space for the future growth of the UHD campus.
  • Prior to the new Center, the Jesse H. Jones Student Life Center served the University as a hub for student activities for 25 years. ​In the intervening years, student enrollment has nearly doubled and increased the demand for more exercise classes and sports and wellness options.

The Center was funded by a student referendum pushed forward by UHD’s Student Government Association and approved by state legislation. In 2019, UHD alumna and State Rep. District 144 Mary Ann Perez authored House Bill (HB) 1277 during Texas’ 86th Legislative Session authorizing a dedicated student fee to support the project. State lawmakers approved HB 1277. Previously, the UHS Board of Regents and UHD students voted to approve the fee for this new facility. The UHS Board of Regents approved the site and program plans for the WSC in 2019, with construction beginning in April 2021.

University of Houston-Downtown Wellness & Success Center - Photo by Mitchell Loper
Photo by Mitchell Loper
University of Houston-Downtown Wellness & Success Center - Photo by Mitchell Loper
Photo by Mitchell Loper

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