Rec Center Revamp Makes a Splash at LSU

A dramatic makeover of the student recreation center at Louisiana State University is making splashy headlines.

📅 Thu July 09, 2015 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley


LSU photo 
The overall price tag for the multi-phase UREC project totals $85 million.
LSU photo The overall price tag for the multi-phase UREC project totals $85 million.

A dramatic makeover of the student recreation center at Louisiana State University is making splashy headlines, as construction continues on a new leisure pool. An estimated 536 ft. (163.3 m) in length, the so-called “lazy river” will spell out the letters “LSU” and will feature two bubbler lounges in an area attached to the north base of the pool.

“The cost of Phase III of the project is about $54 million, and that includes expansion and redesign of the student recreational center,” said Ernie Ballard, LSU’s director of media relations. “This phase also includes redesign of the entryway, indoor pool and locker room space.”

The overall price tag for the multi-phase UREC project totals $85 million. UREC’s expansion and redesign process has taken place over the course of three separate stages. A field expansion has already been completed, along with an area that encompasses four softball fields in a wagon-wheel configuration. In August 2014, the UREC Field Complex located at River Road and the new parking lot and nine new tennis courts opened at the student recreation complex.

Phase III’s contract started in October 2014, with an anticipated completion date of spring 2017. Phase III includes updating the current indoor swimming pool, gutting and redesigning locker rooms, moving administration offices to the front of the facility and expanding 13,000 sq. ft. (1,207 sq m) of cardio/weight space to 40,431 sq. ft. (3,756.1 sq m).

“Students are excited,” said Ballard. “Student government leaders visited other campuses to see what types of UREC facilities peer institutions had. After their visit to other campuses, they voted on a self-imposed fee to fund the expansion project for LSU’s rec center. The amenities in the expanded UREC will include some of the most requested amenities by prospective students.”

The expansion will include an eight-lane indoor lap pool with a varying depth from 4 to 5 ft. (1.2 to 1.5 m), an eight-lane lighted outdoor lap pool, the outdoor, lighted leisure pool, a sun deck with 21,000 sq. ft. (1,950 sq m) broom-finished concrete with a sand-blasted etching of tiger stripes, lounging spaces, sun umbrellas and drinking fountains.

The work involves a 136,177 sq. ft. (12,651 sq m) addition to the current 121,000 sq. ft. (11,241 sq m) facility. Current LSU students, members and guests will have access.

Some have blasted LSU’s spending in a difficult economic climate, but Ballard says the criticism is unfair. In November 2011, after polling on campus, student government members passed a resolution asking for a student recreation fee increase, which went toward this expansion project.

“The funds for the project come directly from the student fee, and can only be used for the project,” Ballard said. “Similar to donations to the university or funds from the state for capital projects, these types of funds can’t be shifted to fill in budget holes or be used in another way. They can only be used for what they were originally designated for.”

Officials also did their homework. LSU student leaders and UREC staff visited campus recreation centers in Texas and Alabama, for example, to gain insight on potential amenities they would like to see in a future UREC expansion and redesign project. According to Ballard, an update was needed, as the school looks to the future.

“LSU’s UREC facility opened in 1992, so there was a need for renovation and expansion as the campus has grown in both size and in student population over the past 20 years or so. LSU student leaders in 2011 wanted the university to have one of the top recreation centers in the country for future generations of LSU students, and that’s exactly what the redesigned UREC will be. Students are looking for healthy lifestyle options when they are looking at college campuses, and the LSU UREC will have amenities to accommodate students in any area of fitness.”

Milton J. Womack Inc. of Baton Rouge is serving as the project’s general contractor.

“We have started erecting the steel structure and doing foundation work,” said Adam Bourgeois, Milton J. Womack senior project manager. “We are replacing the pool equipment and doing a cosmetic redo of the indoor swimming pool area.”

Cranes, earthmoving equipment, man lifts and concrete pump trucks are among the heavy machinery needed during construction.

Some of the main materials being used on the project are concrete, steel, masonry and architectural precast.

An elevated indoor jogging trail made of steel and flooring is being added to the current facility, along with a turfed CrossFit training slope, a 35-foot climbing wall and the new outdoor pool area. An additional three courts will increase court space from five to eight, including multi-purpose courts. A fitness assessment center and outdoor adventure center also are included in the plans.

Bourgeois said one of the biggest obstacles is working on an occupied campus. Difficulty getting material to the site also has been a concern.

The project is a joint venture between GraceHebert Architects of Baton Rouge and HOK Architects of Kansas City, Mo.

Adam Fishbein, Grace Hebert architect, who serves as project director, said one of the main challenges was the integration of the existing facility with the new portion.

“We worked very diligently to upgrade and enhance the existing structure, so that users would not see an obvious line, but old and new.

“Another major challenge was to keep the facility operational during the construction project. We worked out a very in-depth phasing plan that has been implemented, and the facility is still operational in a reduced capacity. The aesthetic of the building had to conform with the design standards of the university. Our team pushed the envelope as far as we could to create the project that’s currently under construction.”

Fishbein said the plans were created based on sustainable design practices.

“Although not LEED accredited, the building will be commissioned. Many light studies were done to limit heat gain, while allowing large expanses of natural light to enter the building. This will work hand in hand with our energy management system, which should reduce the electrical load on the building. We designed areas that we refer to as the ’wedge’. This allows natural light to penetrate deeply into the building.”

The UREC project is the firm’s first collaboration with HOK, Fishbein said.

“The initial contract was a joint venture of GHA/360 Architects. During the process of construction administration, 360 Architects was acquired by HOK. My counterpart at HOK is Doug Barraza. The lead designer for the project was James Braam with HOK. Kriste Rigby and Emily Ostertag accomplished interior design. Both GHA and HOK worked very closely throughout the entire design process. Our cultures and our people were very similar, and it shows in the quality of the final design work.”

Fishbein said the new building will have many unique design features.

“There will be a 35-foot climbing tower in the middle of the building. A ramped indoor running track will climb from the second floor to a mezzanine level and corkscrew back down around that climbing tower. The overall track is in excess of 1/3 of a mile, and is believed to be the largest indoor track in the SEC. We have a tremendous amount of fitness spaces that are organized into neighborhoods, but have visibility from one area to another. There is a fitness ramp in the middle of the building for cross-fit training.”

As for the leisure pool, Fishbein said it was always intended to be a lazy river feature.

“The desire for this pool was born from focus group efforts made during the programming phase of the project. Students ultimately voted and decided they wanted this at their recreation center. The idea for the ’LSU’ lazy river was created on a napkin sketch by Laurie Braden, UREC director, and translated into a hydraulically functional possibility by Councilman Hunsaker.”

The lazy river portion of the project calls for deep foundations, concrete footings, pool piping and concrete deck space for lay-out chairs. An air system also is required for creating the current necessary for a lazy river that has flowing water.

Fishbein believes the new UREC offers possibilities for every lifestyle.

“The intent and mission of the UREC staff is to make everyone comfortable within their facility. We hope we were able to take their mission and translate it into a building that will stand the test of time and promote healthy bodies and healthy minds. We also want them to feel like they have received the very best innovative design. This project will be a legacy facility on the LSU campus. Very rarely do you get the opportunity to effect the lives of so many students in such a positive way.”