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Activity and Recreation Center Exploration Charge

The following is the exploration charge for an activity and recreation center by Beloit College President Scott Bierman in January 2012. 

Enhancing the College’s Mission: Programming an Activity and Recreation Center

There are few physical spaces on college campuses with greater potential to promote a culture of physical and mental well-being, advance a deeper appreciation for the integration of the life of the body and the mind, and develop a broader sense of community and shared purpose than an activity and recreation center. Because of this potential, in recent decades many schools, and nearly all of our admissions overlap schools, have dedicated significant resources to improving and expanding the quality of spaces devoted to these purposes. The best examples of these are schools that spend significant energy making sure the physical spaces are unabashedly connected to the college’s mission and provide a welcome pathway for everyone in the campus community to take advantage of the activities the facility makes possible.

It is common for colleges making significant investments in these types of facilities to provide good support for athletics and recreation; it is far less common for these spaces to provide a mission-driven boost to student development and campus culture. The preeminent charge to this work group is to ensure that we keep our eyes firmly on the bigger prize of impacting student life overall while not sacrificing the importance of good recreational and athletic facilities.

Because of an activity and recreation center’s potential to enhance the lives of Beloit College student; because good activity and recreational spaces are increasingly being seen as deterministically important by prospective students; because a building adjacent to the campus may have become available which offers a uniquely interesting opportunity; the time is right to engage in the analysis I seek from you. The college has not yet committed to building a new activity and recreational facility. The efforts of this work team will help us understand whether, in fact, the college should make such a commitment.

I ask the work team to complete a space-programming exercise with the objective of identifying the most valuable ways the college could take advantage of approximately 120,000 square feet of usable space in the now inactive Alliant Power Plant. If it is helpful, and I certainly believe it is, I’d encourage you to consider the role this facility played in the life of the college and community before it was decommissioned. It was a source of power— a facility that provided the energy needed to energize, grow and sustain this place and its people. While its redevelopment as a Beloit College facility may alter its appearance in some ways, we do not expect that aspect of its work to change. If we are to undertake this work, the power plant must continue to be a place that energizes our campus and college community.

Because I believe the tangibility of the prospective use of the Alliant Power Plant will help spark this group’s creative thinking, I have asked you to use it as the foundation for your planning. However, there are many reasons why the college may not in the end acquire this particular facility. Thus the exercise in which you engage should mostly translate into what is essentially a programming exercise for a campus activity and recreation center that might be located elsewhere. It would be helpful to explicate those instances in which a different facility would likely generate a different way of thinking about specific spaces.

It is essential that you tie your recommendations to the college’s mission and our dedication to developing and deepening opportunities for putting the liberal arts into practice. This will undoubtedly mean that you will be actively discussing ways in which the building can be used and how those uses need to be supported. As this will require you to consider programming and the physical spaces that will support them, I encourage you to share with me your thoughts about staffing and activity programming as well. I also encourage you to think about the facility as having a life span of 50-75 years, implying that flexibility of use should be seen as a highly valuable quality.

The membership of the work team includes Christina Klawitter (Chair), Isaac Bamgbose (’13), Peggy Carl, Bill Flanagan, Jennie Hartzheim, Jason Hughes, Jenna Larsen (’14), Scott Lyngaas, Britt Scharringhausen, and Tim Schmiechen. The team will be supported by Dan Schooff, of Rock Consulting, who has been advising the college in its conversations with various external players, including Alliant Energy Company.

The work of the work group

  • To prompt candid and creative conversations with and among members of the campus community in the development of the proposed program.
  • To seek input from other colleges who have reputations for having developed innovative and mission-centric campus activity/recreation programs.
  • To ensure that the development of the activity and recreation center program is connected to and congruent with current thinking within the space-use committee.
  • To incorporate the expertise of an architectural design firm, at the appropriate time, into the final recommendations. This firm will provide a different perspective on program options and will be critical to developing cost estimates.
  • To deliver a summary report to the President by April 16. The report should include the following:
    • A proposed space program for the activity and recreation center should it be housed in the Alliant Power Plant
    • Rationale for the choices that are being recommended that connect to the college’s mission and the liberal arts in practice.
    • Cost estimates to complete the project.
    • Cost estimates for ongoing non-personnel operations.
    • Recommendations regarding staffing and activity programming.

Some parameters

  • Members of the work team are being chosen not as representatives of different constituencies, but as valued community members whose varied experiences here or at other institutions, combined with their commitment to the college as a whole, and their highly respected judgment, makes their collective wisdom extremely valuable.
  • The size of the space to be programmed is approximately 120,000 square feet.
  • Cost considerations need to be a very important part of the final recommendations.
  • We should expect the building to operate in the capacity of a Beloit College activity and recreation center for approximately 50-75 years.
  • We should expect to plan on a long run average size of the student body of 1225. Having said this, the number of students on campus in the fall semester has historically been significantly higher than the spring semester. While we aspire to reduce the variance in enrollment, it is probably wise to plan on a student capacity of 1275 students.