Laurie Braden, LSU’s director of university recreation, has something to say about the most visual element of the school’s newly expanded recreation center.
Do not call it a lazy river.
“There is nothing lazy about the pursuit of health and wellness,” Braden said.
And there’s nothing understated about the new rec center.
The facility has more than doubled its previous 121,000 square feet. Where there used to be 10,000 square feet of fitness space, now there’s 42,000. The indoor track more than doubled in length to one-third of a mile. There are 185 pieces of cardio equipment, much of which is wheelchair-accessible.
LSU students, faculty, staff and alumni who buy memberships have noticed. Average daily use has tripled from last year, Braden said. In 2016, roughly 4,500 people visited the rec center at least once. Already, 9,038 have visited since its Sept. 8 reopening.
Of course, that's the idea. Recreation and fitness are big deals for 21st-century students, Braden said. Students factor it into where they enroll.
“Obviously, they look at academic programs; they’re here to get an education,” she said. “They’re looking at housing options. They’re looking at what are the recreation and leisure amenities that are available. It does impact students’ choices.”
Braden received an email from Jeremy Battjes, director of the University of Arkansas’ recreation center, who said his school’s student government president had checked out LSU’s center while at a conference.
“He was in awe of your facility,” Battjes said in the email. “He told me if he was an incoming freshman, it would have sealed the deal for him.”
From Braden’s perspective, the impact lasts much longer than the day students enroll. Studies indicate that plugging into fitness also helps students in the classrooms.
“The neuroscience absolutely supports the value of these facilities as it relates to student success,” she said. “And that’s why we’re here, bottom line, to help students be successful.”
As part of its expansion, the facility added an additional basketball court and two multi-activity courts with dasher boards that allow them to be used for indoor soccer. There is a 35-foot climbing wall, an area for functional fitness exercises like sleds to push, heavy balls to throw and a 20-degree turf ramp that runs 27 yards from the second to the third floor. Braden said she doesn’t know of another facility that has one.
For that matter, if another university has a place that spells out the school’s initials where students can float along and relax, Braden doesn’t know about that, either. But she knows what to call it.
“We have a leisure river. … Everybody laughs at me when I say that,” she said. “That’s OK. This is my business, and I might be a little biased about it. But if you really look at the science of health and well-being, a balanced life is really important across our lifetime. I take that very seriously. It’s my personal and my professional pursuit.
“If you are a student and you have to read three chapters, and it’s a nice, fall day, and you come to the outdoor pool and sit in an Adirondack chair, and you’re outside, and it’s a beautiful day, and there are other students around, and you read your three chapters and you take your notes, and you feel relaxed, and you feel great about getting your work done, it’s not always about high-intensity fitness," Braden said. "It’s about a balanced life.”
Student fees pay for the $52 million facility, which is part of an $84 million upgrade that involves athletic fields and tennis courts elsewhere on campus.
“In a state — not just in Louisiana but in the Southeast — where obesity and the health crisis is paramount, this facility takes relatively active 17- and 18-year-olds and, hopefully, keeps them active, keeps them engaged and keeps them interested and sets them on their way to a continued lifetime of the pursuit of health and wellness,” Braden said.