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Recreation center makes UMass less of a concrete jungle

After a few delays – some of them at the last minute – the University of Massachusetts is set to open its newest “new dirt” building.

The UMass Recreation Center sits where battered old barns once stood across the street from the Mullins Center. A little less than a week ago, because of my job doing grunt work for OIT, I spent about three hours inside the new facility.

I have to say, I was impressed.

After walking the first wide stone staircase, you come up to a landing that overlooks most of the facilities. Wooden benches sit along the staircase behind you and a glistening basketball court lies off to the right.

The recreation center doesn’t have the same cramped, cave-like feel that many of UMass’ buildings do. It’s meant to feel open, refined and does this exceptionally well. Natural light streams in from everywhere, lighting the building to the point that on a sunny day, you may have to squint. The simple use of windows by itself makes the recreation center drastically different architecturally than anything else on campus.

I tend to think of UMass as a school that rapidly expanded during the 1970s, and did so by constructing cement buildings that appear to be wetting themselves whenever it rains. UMass is slowly but surely moving forward from this unfortunate history.

The details, however, are really what make the recreation center so nice. When I was there, workers were meeting and discussing the little things that needed to get done before everyone arrived. Construction was still being done, seemingly perfect floors were being sanded to an even greater degree of perfection as an anxious feeling weighed over the supervisors who wanted things done just so.

There are two floors of free weights and machines, three basketball courts, an expansive area full of more treadmills and elliptical machines than you can count and even a dance studio. The lockers are even an improvement. Instead of a sheet metal exterior, there is a wood finish – albeit fake – that ensures a polished feel.

UMass needed to build a facility like the recreation center. This school has to compete with private colleges like Boston University in a state that could not be more competitive when it comes to higher education.

I came very close to attending BU, largely because of their unbelievable fitness facilities. It’s nice to think that UMass is taking steps to compete. The absence I’ve felt since arriving at UMass of a real fitness facility is starting to ebb, replaced nicely enough, by a glimmer of pride in our state institution.

It doesn’t hurt that the facility is free for undergraduates. While I’m sure that the administration had calculated the costs meticulously into our student fees without our realizing, it will be nice to present my student ID and walk through the entranceway without paying a dime.

For three years now, I have belonged to a gym, specifically the Leading Edge, which has taken a few hundred dollars out of my budget each year. After this next bill, I no longer have to subsidize a mediocre business that has always had an affinity for nickel and diming its members.

For those of you who are uncertain whether to keep your old memberships, there is a clear answer – don’t. Cancel them at first chance and head to the newest building on campus.

There has been grumbling from some of my friends concerning the construction of the recreation center. There are budget deficits, and the University spent more than $50 million to give this building life. I have always liked the idea, but some of my friends think the money should have gone towards scholarships or hiring more faculty. Rolled eyes are not uncommon, as people show their distaste that even more money is being spent on athletics.

It’s always easy to find other ways to spend money – every group on campus is going to think that their particular interest deserves it more than something else. This, however, does not take away the most important point of this construction. UMass has finally started taking steps towards becoming a more reputable institution. They have begun building, and in so doing, they are leaving the pangs of their mediocre past behind them in exchange for a new kind of future – a future where this school receives the respect it is beginning to deserve.

We will never be Harvard or MIT, nor should we be. UMass is meant to educate solid students, mostly from the state, and enable them to achieve excellence. With the new recreation center, we have taken a solid step in making this school competitive. Most state schools in the Midwest are the pride of their state’s citizens; UMass is coming closer to this kind of recognition.

Mike Phillis is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at

2 Responses to “Recreation center makes UMass less of a concrete jungle”
  1. Larry Kelley says:

    Yeah, speaking as a long-time Amherst health club owner (and 5’th generation Amherst townie and Umass grad) this will change EVERYTHING.

    And strangely enough I completely support the right of the University to offer this to the students as a way of keeping competitive with other colleges and universities.

    I can only hope LOTS of students (like Mike Phillis) abandon The Leading Edge (AKA Gold’s Gym).

  2. Chuck says:

    Annnnnnd the Rec Center is STILL closed!
    Leave it to UMass totally mess up the opening of a multi-million dollar new project.

    Will the Rec Center ever open?
    But failing to get the proper permits before opening day is just embarrassing.

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