Saint Leo University will soon be home to a sprawling $20 million wellness center —integrating student recreation, fitness, health services, counseling services and campus ministry.
A groundbreaking ceremony earlier this month celebrated the forthcoming 59,000-square-foot wellness center, to be situated on the west end of the campus by Lake Jovita.
Construction tentatively will begin in April, and university officials hope to open the wellness center in fall 2021.
The new facility will provide space for group exercise, spinning and yoga classes, and a large community fitness center. There also will be two indoor basketball courts, an indoor walking track, a healthy café and smoothie bar, a resort-style outdoor pool with a lakeside infinity edge and outdoor barbecue, as well as a relaxation terrace and garden. There also will be several multipurpose rooms, which could be used as space for meditation, specialty classes, gaming and so on.
Many of those amenities, such as a dedicated cycling and yoga studio, aren’t presently offered on campus. Also, “There will be new machines, new equipment on the fitness floor that we don’t currently have,” said Dr. Melanie Storms, senior vice president at the university, who is spearheading the wellness center project.
The university’s current recreation and fitness offerings are mainly housed at Marion Bowman Activities & Aquatics Center.
But, once the new wellness center opens, the Bowman Center will become an exclusive training ground for Saint Leo’s various athletic programs, Storms said.
The Bowman Center has been somewhat limited for recreation and intramural activities because the space also is shared by the university’s intercollegiate athletic programs, such as the Saint Leo men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball teams.
Because of that, Storms said the regular student body has been pining for a “fully dedicated rec gym” the wellness center will offer.
“We definitely have had high student demand — voices from the students saying they needed additional space, that the (recreation) hours and offerings just haven’t been sufficient to meet the needs,” Storms said.
The wellness center primarily will be for Saint Leo students, faculty and staff, but some features may be open to be public.
Storms said summer pool memberships will “definitely” be offered to the local community, while public-use options for the fitness center and health services are still being explored by university officials; the university is in talks with several health care providers that potentially could serve the community by delivering medical services on-site.
Storms said student health and counseling services currently offered at DeChantal Hall will move to the new facility once it opens, making it the “single source of health services” at Saint Leo. She added the DeChantal Hall building will stay in use for other purposes for the time being, as it also houses other university departments, such as theology faculty.
The wellness center project has been under discussion for a number of years, but officials say now was the time to proceed — as the school in the fall welcomed its largest incoming group of students in the university’s 130-year history (1,001 new students).
The school now has about 2,100 students on campus, plus more than 700 faculty and staff.
Said Storms, “With the increase that we saw in our student population this past fall, and the anticipated coming in next fall, we just realized it was time; our recreational facilities are overloaded.”
Creative Contractors of Clearwater is serving as the construction firm for the project, while S3 Design Inc., of Braintree, Massachusetts, is handling the architectural design; and JLL of Tampa will provide project management services.
The university has secured financing to proceed on the multi-million project, but also is working to secure private fundraising and state funding, Storms said.
The wellness center is going on land that originally belonged to the Benedictine Sisters of Florida.
With that, Storms believes the facility “fits within the historical context of who they are and how they used the space.”
She observed, “The site is very special in the sense of being dedicated to the mind, body, spirit, and the sort of holistic well-being of the individual, and sort of carrying forward their legacy in that way. It’s beautiful because it’s lakeside, it’s very serene, and I couldn’t think of a better way to use the land than this.”
At the groundbreaking, Saint Leo president Dr. Jeffrey Senese predicted the new wellness center will have a significant impact: “We are creating an iconic building for Pasco County, Tampa Bay and Florida. It is our vision that this building will take your breath away.”
Published February 19, 2020