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Pitt’s new recreation and wellness center will champion students’ mental and physical wellness

  • Health and Wellness
  • Our City/Our Campus
  • Students

Visions for a center designed to enhance the student experience at the University’s Pittsburgh campus are coming into focus.

The Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, planned at the site of the former O’Hara Garage and LRDC building, will be a state-of-the art facility, as well as a vital connection point.

Though still in the conceptual design phase, the center is expected to house 270,000 square feet of first-rate amenities and services driven and conceptualized by the primary stakeholders — students.

“This project began with listening to students, and their voices were loud and clear,” Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said. “They wanted better recreational opportunities and experiences at Pitt. From day one, weve made it a priority to engage students as true partners in planning the center and bringing our shared vision to life.”

A student advisory board was formed in 2019 to offer students from across campus and disciplines a platform to contribute insights during the early phases of the center's development.

Anastasia Dubnicay, project manager in Pitt’s Office of Facilities Management, oversees the center’s development and construction. She established the advisory committee with Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kenyon Bonner and Jill Krantz, executive director of Campus Recreation. Dubnicay said the student input was invaluable.

“Sitting down, talking with the students, asking them their thoughts, brought up inclusivity aspects and needs at current facilities that we didn’t know about, which was incredibly valuable,” Dubnicay said.

Student representatives said they have felt heard through the development process.

“Throughout this entire process, student voices and values were heavily considered,” said Audrey Collins, a third-year doctoral student and a student representative from the Department of Health and Human Development in the School of Education. “It’s important to support students from an academic perspective but also to help improve other aspects of their lives. The new facility will do that and provide inclusive opportunities to improve overall student health and wellness from a holistic approach.”

Collins (EDUC ’17, ’18G), who is pursuing a doctorate in exercise physiology, continued: “It’s also a symbol of the University of Pittsburgh’s value and commitment to students’ well-being. I'm proud to be a student here.”

Michael Liu, a senior engineering major in the Swanson School of Engineering, hails from a family of athletes. A frequent gym-goer, he was hired this summer as a campus facility attendant, a job he enjoys for the social aspect and equipment access. But in September, something changed.

“I had a period of bad depression, and I quit working out for a long time,” he said. As time passed, he saw only one solution. “I picked working out back up for the sake of maintaining life balance.”

Physical activity provides a similar reprieve for Ashley Choi.

“Exercise is something I need to do every day for my day to feel complete,” said Choi, a senior psychology major who’s minoring in Korean in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. An active member of Pitt Crew, the University's competitive rowing team, she said exercise “relieves stress and helps with my confidence in my body and mind.”

Choi and Liu are encouraged about what this facility will mean for and offer to future students.

“It's a return on investment for students, and I hope they enjoy it,” Liu said.

a rendering of the inside of the facility

What’s inside

From recreation opportunities to cutting-edge experiences, this innovative multi-story facility will encompass all aspects of health and wellness. Design plans include a recreation pool; a jogging track; weight-lifting equipment; multi-activity courts for basketball, volleyball and other activities; dining options and more. 

“Our vision for the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center is that it will be a transformative space in the heart of campus that serves as the intersection of well-being for the Pitt community,” said Vice Provost Bonner. “Put another way, our vision is to create the newest, coolest and healthiest place on campus.”

The center is part of the campus master plan and hillside development plans — and will set the tone for Pitt’s comprehensive approach to sustainability, incorporation of community input on new construction, and prioritization of connectivity, both physical and mental.

“It’s the centerpiece of the University’s campus master plan,” said Scott Bernotas, vice chancellor of facilities management, who described students’ views on current workout facilities as having multiple opportunities for improvement.

“This modern facility — with sustainability at the forefront — can strengthen the University’s health and wellness offerings and, in terms of student experience, will provide amenities in one convenient location that’s located in the heart of campus. From a legacy perspective, the center will be another postcard landmark for the University; the Cathedral of Learning will always be the first, but the second will feature this hillside destination.”

Students agree.

“To have one condensed area and facility with everything in the middle of campus may interest people who are reluctant to go all the way into the other world of upper campus and vice versa,” said Ian Montelius, a second-year School of Pharmacy student. “Sometimes people stay in their own little community.”

As a Pitt Pathfinder, he recognizes benefits for current students and those considering Pitt.

“When I'm giving tours [to prospective students and their families], I talk about upper campus towards the end,” Montelius said. “I point in that direction and discuss the gyms, and people are sometimes turned off by how far away it seems. Having somewhere to point to on tour that they can see would be better.”

In addition to being the largest recreation and wellness center in Pitt’s history, this will be the first to adopt a holistic approach to supporting overall student health and wellness.

The world is a complex, stressful place and this will be the space for students to physically and mentally stay grounded and destress in healthy ways,” said Mary Beth McGrew, associate vice chancellor in the Office of Planning, Design and Real Estate.

McGrew described the visionary “aspirational design” as one that requires technical rigor because of its provisions that empower the mind, body and spirit, as well as its vertical design.

“It’s a different kind of center because of the transitions and the topography of this area.” However, building into the hillside will enable “opportunities to fully integrate the hillside and outdoors as part of the overall development plan.” The area surrounding the center will include native plants, dedicated pathways and boast outdoor spaces that are natural extensions of the facility.

For those the center is designed for, the impact is already evident.

“Our life satisfaction is often influenced by our desire to pursue our individual capabilities,” said Danielle Floyd, a junior economics major and vice president of the Student Government Board. “To achieve these goals, taking care of physical and psychological health needs to be a top priority for students. The recreation center being built and the University actually looking for student input in this process sends a message to students that this is a top priority.”

What’s next

Demolition of the O’Hara Parking Garage is complete, and work on the Learning Research and Development Center will continue through January 2022. The University intends to break ground on new construction of the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center in spring 2022. It is anticipated to open in fall 2024, and have a significant economic impact for the University, Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania communities by creating more than 1,000 jobs and maximizing minority and woman business enterprise participation.

Learn more and get project updates.


— Kara Henderson