Modern technology increasingly makes our lives easier, but rarely healthier. Today’s college students find it increasingly difficult to maintain the active lifestyle they need to relieve stress, stay healthy and improve their ability to study.
“Many people think that exercise is just about looking better, but it’s actually making you a better person from the inside out,” said Boss Sirisatit, who graduated in 2020 with a degree in international rescue and relief. “Exercise is the way I give myself time to improve and think things through. Exercise every morning gives me a sense of accomplishment and the motivation to start the day.”
Union College is now building on a tradition of helping students live healthier, well-rounded lives and officially launched a $13 million capital campaign on June 16 to fund the construction of a new wellness center. The campaign will significantly expand the college’s fitness and athletic facilities.
Current plans call for a new 54,000 square foot building next to Larson Lifestyle Center that will contain expanded workout rooms, athletic courts, a walking track and a turf field. The new facility will connect to the existing facility so patrons can continue to use the 25-meter pool that has served Union and the Lincoln community for 40 years.
Why build a new wellness center?
Updated fitness facilities have long been at the top of the list for students and employees when asked what Union should build or improve. “Students are asking for a better wellness facility,” said Vinita Sauder, president of Union College. “We believe this is the next logical step as we continue the master plan to transform our campus to support the great learning experience our students already receive.”
Many fitness-minded students now purchase memberships at off-campus fitness centers because they don’t like to wait in line in the crowded workout rooms to use the few cardio machines, weight machines or free weights. “I started working out at Larson when I was a freshman, but I found very often that all the machines were taken and that it was crowded—I would actually bump into people while I was exercising. And when I wasn’t exercising, I was waiting in line to get the weights,” said Jean Étienne Ramos, a 2020 graduate. “I got a membership at Good Life Fitness, and I lifted there with a couple of buddies.”
“I really wish there was a running track,” said Brittany Fast, who graduated in May with an OTA degree. “Running on the treadmill gets boring after a while. A running track would make it easy to come run inside—especially in Nebraska winters. Plus Larson is so convenient because it is right here on campus.”
Union alumnus Rich Reiner became passionate about the project when he came out of retirement briefly in 2016 to serve as Union’s interim CFO.
“Every day I like to work out,” he explained. “I was not too impressed with the space capacity and variability of the cardio and strength equipment at the Larson Lifestyle Center.”
He quickly saw the value students put on recreational activities. “There’s only one gymnasium on campus and it is used constantly for gymnastic practice, PE classes, intramural sports, varsity volleyball and basketball practice and it really excludes the majority of the student body,” he explained. For the last five years, he has been dedicated to realizing this vision of better facilities for a healthier Union, and Reiner is now the campaign chair—helping to raise money for the new facility.
Room for growth
According to Frankie Rose, Union’s vice president for academics, current research shows that a key component of a thriving college is to offer quality wellness facilities. “It’s also an important part of your curb appeal,” he explained. “When people visit, they’re trying to envision themselves there on your campus. If your facility is really out of date or unattractive, it does factor into a student’s decision to enroll or not.”
Forrester Research found that 75 percent of college students use recreation centers and 68 percent of college students said campus recreation facilities influenced their decision to attend a college—or continue attending a college.
Both U.S. News and Forbes report that colleges are investing in new recreational centers because students want them and are even willing to be taxed for centers that won’t be completed until after they graduate. Union College students proved this to be true when the 2018 Student Association leadership decided to give $120,000 of SA funds to the project.
“Our students crave social spaces,” said Sauder. “They want to exercise with their friends. Our new building will have space for that. That’s all a part of living a healthy life. I hope these good habits will develop here and last our students a lifetime.”
Not just an academic exercise
Thanks to its Seventh-day Adventist heritage, Union College has been committed to helping students develop physically as well as mentally since its founding in 1891. Healthier living is even built into the curriculum—every student must take activity courses as well as Concepts of Wellness, a class that teaches nutrition, fitness and balanced living. For one student, it may have even saved his life.
Jared Dittmer enrolled at Union College to study education and was shocked when he saw his blood test—a requirement for everyone in Concepts of Wellness. “I just didn’t realize how unhealthy I was,” he said.
First, he cut out sugary drinks. Living right across from the gas station, Dittmer used to drink four 52-oz sodas a day. Then he started exercising at Larson. At first he couldn’t run for five minutes, but soon he was lifting weights and doing cardio exercise for 60 minutes at a time.
“I felt a big difference in my health and the weight just started melting off,” he said. He went on to lose 60 pounds and now runs 5K races and even half marathons.
Union also revamped the Wellness Warriors program using education and friendly competition to encourage students and employees to get enough rest, water and exercise while eating healthfully and minimizing stress.
Serving the Lincoln community
The Larson Lifestyle Center has served the Lincoln community for 40 years, providing indoor swimming and workout facilities for the College VIew neighborhood. Union offers year-round children’s swimming lessons and gives more lessons than any other pool in the city—including all three YMCA pools combined.
“Every staff member I’ve met at Larson deserves five stars for their hospitality, kindness, encouragement and desire to serve. As I head out, my favorite desk clerk always says, ‘Have a blessed day!’” said Tom Safranek, a member of the Lincoln community who has regularly worked out and swam at Union for more than 25 years. “Coming to Larson—that makes me feel blessed as I start my day.”
He is one of many nearby residents who take advantage of Larson for workouts, swimming lessons or water aerobics classes. The building project will also impact the pool facility through much-needed roof and HVAC repairs. Community members will be able to take advantage of the expanded workout rooms, courts and track in the new facility.
Fit for the Future
After his experience trying to exercise at Larson Lifestyle Center, Reiner is now a champion for the new project and serves as chair of the $13 million Fit for the Future capital campaign to fund the new building.
Reiner and his wife, Lynette, also gave a leadership gift and the Reiner Wellness Center will be named in their honor. “I believe Union needs a new wellness facility to support the needs of our students and employees, to attract our local community and to live out the health principles of our faith,” he said.
Union publicly launches this campaign with more than $9 million in gift commitments for the project. In addition to the Reiners, several other individuals and organizations have given leadership gifts, including AdventHealth of Florida; Allo Communications of Lincoln; Cary and Pam DeCamp of Kansas; the Edna Harris Estate of Oregon; H&B Communications of Kansas; Kettering Health of Ohio; J S Lang Enterprises of Lincoln; Mid-America Union of Seventh-day Adventists of Lincoln; Nelnet of Lincoln; Jeff and Shelly Peterson of Tennessee; Paula Shaw of Florida; the Thompson family of Nebraska; and Union Bank & Trust of Lincoln.
Thanks to a lead gift from AdventHealth, the entire facility—which will house the Reiner Wellness Center, the Larson Aquatics Center, the Nursing Program and the Health and Human Performance Program—will be called the AdventHealth Complex. AdventHealth is a Florida-based healthcare system affiliated with Union College’s parent organization—the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The second-largest private healthcare system in the country, AdventHealth operates nearly 50 hospitals, including several in the Kansas City and Denver metro areas.
Construction is expected to begin in 2023, and the college plans to have the building ready for the 2024-2025 school year.
The new 54,000 square foot facility will be built next to the current Larson Lifestyle Center building. Plans call for tripling the current space for cardio and strength training equipment, a field house with bleachers for varsity basketball and volleyball games, new locker rooms for home and visiting teams, an additional basketball court for recreation and a turf practice area for soccer. The facility will include a walking track and will be connected to the current Larson building so patrons can continue to use the 25 meter swimming pool.
The project will also add a new entrance with wheelchair accessibility for the Nursing Program on the upper level of the current Larson building. It will also cover some structural issues that need to be addressed on the 40-year-old building.
Union College plans to continue to use the Thunderdome, its current gymnasium, for classes and athletic team practices even after the new facility is completed.
Learn more and support the Fit for the Future campaign at ucollege.edu/fit
AdventHealth Complex quick facts
- The new building will cost $13 million
- The Fit for the Future campaign has already raised $9 million of the $13 million goal.
- The new facility will be a two-level, 54,000 square foot structure, and combined with the existing Larson Lifestyle Center building, the entire AdventHealth Complex will be more than 76,000 square feet.
- The new building will be built north of the current Larson Lifestyle Center building. Including additional parking, the new facility will fill the empty lot located along Calvert Street between 51st and 52nd Streets.
- A field house with a college-sized basketball court and retractable bleachers. This court will also contain two high-school sized courts across the main court
- Locker rooms with showers for home and visiting varsity athletic teams
- Large fitness center with cardio and weight training equipment
- Additional basketball court for recreation
- Turf field
- Walking track
- The 25-meter pool in the current Larson building will be connected to the new facility
- Construction is set to begin early in 2023.
- The building will be completed in time for the 2024-2025 school year.