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UMC looks for bulked-up wellness center

Students and athletes workout in the UMC fitness center Tuesday evening in the old Knutson Gym built in the early 1930s.JOHN SETNNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD1 / 2
Members of the UMC women's softball team workout in a small weighT room on the second floor of the old Knutson Gym that now serves at UMC's fitness center.JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD2 / 2

CROOKSTON -- Alexmai Addo, the president of the UM-Crookston student government, had a succinct appraisal of the campus' current wellness center:

"Not much time, not much space and not much access for non-sports students."

Help may be on the way. That's because the University of Minnesota Board of Regents recently ranked a new UMC wellness center as a high priority for its university system building projects. The regents are requesting five projects to be included in a bonding bill, with the UMC improvement ranking No. 3 on the list.

The high ranking is no guarantee of being approved because the Legislature did not pass a bonding bill last session. But it's a sign of regents' support.

"All the feedback that I've received has said that we really need this project," UMC Chancellor Fred Wood said. "Indications are good, but sometimes you don't want to count your chickens before they hatch."

The facility would cost $15 million, with the state contributing $10 million. The balance could be paid with a combination of private donations, student fees and other funding sources, said Andrew Svec, UMC spokesman.


Addo's assessment is that the sports teams dominate the facility during the prime hours of late afternoon and evenings, with limited exercise equipment and a facility that is 30 years old in some areas and 80 years old in another.

Stephanie Helgeson, UMC's athletic director, agrees with Addo.

"The current facility was built for a junior college and has seen no real improvements in the last 20 years," she said. "A new facility would help in the recruiting and retention of students and student-athletes. It's especially important in northwest Minnesota, where it's cold in the winter."

Of UMC's 1,000 on-site students, 700 live on campus. Thirty years ago, when it was a two-year school, the college had 850 students, with 350 living on campus.

That doubling of on-campus students -- along with the trend of increased interest in fitness -- increases the need for a facility. Wood said a modern wellness center would not only increase enrollment, but also academic achievement.

"There are strong links between students being active and also having higher retention, higher GPAs and stronger graduation rates," Wood said.

And, the facility also could be a classroom. "One of our degrees is in sports and recreation management," he said. "This facility could serve as a laboratory."

Michael Laurich, a junior biology student, agrees with Addo that the wellness center usually isn't available to the general student body until 10 or 11 p.m., after team workouts and intramurals.

"You have to plan around the athletes' time and your school work," he said. "Most of the time, you have to go late. But late time is study time for me."

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