Construction begins today on not just a new building at Weber State University’s Ogden campus, but a dream three years in the making.
Prior WSU student body presidents Victoria Thompson and Kyle Braithwaite gathered on Tuesday with current members of the WSU Student Association, including Legislative Vice President Brady Harris, to break ground for the Health, Wellness and Education addition to the C. William Stromberg Gym. Construction is expected to be completed by fall 2013.
“It has been my privilege to be a part of this project from the start, and it is with great excitement that we gather here today to finally break ground on this project that was defined by students, for students, and truly speaks to the attentiveness of the administration to the needs of the student body,” said Harris during the ceremony.
The expansion will provide Wildcats a place of open recreation not dominated by athletes.
“Between Swenson Gym and Campus Recreation, they were kind of climbing all over each other, and the outcome of that was that students didn’t really have a place to work out or have fun outside the union building,” Thompson said. “I think the union building draws in a certain crowd, but there’s a lot of kids that are more active and want something to actually do on campus, and there’s not really a place to do it.”
Thompson said that, even before being elected president when she served on the Student Fee Recommendation Committee, she noticed many complications arose from the cramped gym space.
“We started looking at it and talking to the administration about building a second building,” Thompson said. “We thought it was a long shot, but we figured you don’t get anywhere thinking you’ve already failed.”
The initial plan proposed the complex be built in front of the duck pond. In hindsight, Thompson admitted, that was probably neither the most feasible nor aesthetically pleasing plan.
“It was probably a $30 million building we were shooting for, whereas this one is about $8 million,” she said, laughing. “They hesitated for a second and asked if there was some way we could compromise.”
The new complex will include a three-lane track suspended above the current track in the gym to accommodate everyone. It will also include a new fitness area with weight machines, two fitness classrooms for subjects like cycling and yoga, and additional space for Campus Recreation and club sports.
After the election, Thompson and her WSUSA team looked at the campus and decided this was one area in which they wanted to make a difference.
“We looked at it from a holistic perspective,” she said. “We wanted people to be able to come in and not just work out, but that there would be a social element to it and a feeling of wellness.”
Thompson said the initial proposal to WSU administration might have been a bit outlandish in retrospect, but that the school worked with them to meet in the middle and begin to put their idea into action.
“The cool thing about it is to watch a student idea go through the right channels and see that you really can make a difference on campus,” she said. “I think that’s something unique to Weber State University, because not all administration is that accessible at other universities.”
Braithwaite said he helped Thompson come up with the original idea and was honored to continue to carry the vision when he became president.
“My job was to get the funding we needed from the students and from the state with minimal impact on student fees, which there are hardly any, and really try to bring a space where students can come and openly recreate without getting kicked out because there’s a track meet or a class,” he said.
Although this is a student-led initiative, Braithwaite said, it wouldn’t have been possible without the hundreds of students and countless administrators who helped and collaborated along the way.
Harris said they were lucky that, after years of planning, the building will be completed so quickly.
“Because of how much impact it’ll have in the arena, the wintertime is ideal to construct,” he said. “During the off times is when they’ll be in the arena, and during the semester, the goal is to impact the arena as little as possible so they’ll be in there during the winter break and during the summer.”
He also said the A8 parking lot, where construction is taking place, will be closed until the building is complete.
“The biggest impact on students come from the lot being closed, so students will have to enter the gym from up top,” Harris said.
Having been involved in the plan from the beginning, Harris said he is excited for students to have their own space.
“The goal is so any student can feel comfortable going there and getting exercise, and not just to be a huge, weightlifting person,” he said. “Anybody, everybody can go there.”