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Student fitness facility finally front and center

Florida Gulf Coast University has always bought into the English proverb that a healthy mind lives in a healthy body. But FGCU has faced challenges providing the fitness facilities needed to accommodate the more than 15,000 bodies that house those brains.

The 9,000-square-foot Recreation Center adjacent to Alico Arena, which includes the Fitness Center, Group Fitness Studio and a strength and conditioning room, was built to serve about 4,000 students, or roughly one-fourth of FGCU’s current student body, not to mention faculty and staff who also enjoy access.

Finally, after about three years of planning, fundraising and negotiating a rather challenging permitting process, that’s about to change with start of construction on the 47,737-square-foot Recreation and Wellness Center, to be built in the southwest area of South Village. Tom Mayo, director of facilities planning, is hoping for completion of the project by Spring 2020.

That has everyone pumped, especially Robbie Roepstorff, vice chair of the FGCU Board of Trustees and one of the new center’s biggest champions since she was part of its original approval in 2015.

“I’m extremely pleased for our students,” says Roepstorff, a founder and president of Edison National Bank and Bank of the Islands in Fort Myers and Sanibel Island. “This center is by no means a luxury item for our university, it’s a necessity. Studies show students adjust better to university life and enhance academic performance when they have a fitness center on campus where they can unwind and socialize in a healthy environment. Our FGCU students greatly deserve the opportunities and services the new center will offer. I look forward to opening the doors to this important facility and healthy lifestyle on campus.”

Photo of new FGCU fitness center.Most of the funding for the $15 million center comes from the university’s capital improvement fund, which includes student activity fees, but other sources include a $3-million gift from the FGCU Foundation and two private donations: one an estate gift made anonymously, the other of $1.5 million spread over five years from the Mary E. Dooner Foundation, a Naples-based family philanthropic organization that has been a regular FGCU benefactor. The latter gift will result in the strength-and-conditioning area of the new center to be named in honor of Gene and Mary Dooner. Besides the strength and conditioning part of the center, the facility also will include areas for health and fitness assessment and education, providing a total wellness experience for both body and mind.

But even with the funding in place, the biggest hurdle would prove to be needed approval for the project from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which, when it reviewed plans for the center along with a new road FGCU wants to build, came up with a list of issues it first wanted the university to resolve, resulting in the almost-three-year delay. With those issues fixed to everyone’s satisfaction, FGCU is ready to move ahead quickly — and that’s good news for students such as Roxana Ruiz, a sophomore economics major from Fort Myers.

“I usually have to wait to use the bars to do work on my legs,” says Ruiz, who uses the fitness center three times a week for up to an hour and a half each visit, usually between classes. “More equipment, and more room for it, will be great.”

As for the added services the expanded facility will afford, Ruiz says nutrition advice and perhaps some personal-training expertise can only enhance her FGCU experience. It’s all part of the university making good health and happiness an integral part of the educational journey.