Aging campus fitness hub no closer to upgrade

High costs constrain UNM vision for modern “wellness center”

By Kyle Tomasi

ALBUQUERQUE — University of New Mexico officials have been raising student hopes for a new recreation facility to replace the aging Johnson Center but the reality is that a new “wellness center” is still many years away.

Plans now on the drawing board range in cost and scope from $36 million to $86 million.

The many proposed amenities include a rock climbing wall, leisure pool, strength and cardio expansion, dance studios, an indoor track, a multi-activity court, a martial arts studio, indoor cycling areas and spacious common areas with retail outlets.

Some students say the money they are paying to UNM right now should go towards a new center.

“I love having the workout facilities right there on campus,” said John Pierce, a junior. “I just wish they could use some of our already existing student fees to make advancements in the center and make it more modern.”

Johnson Gym Showing its Age

Many students, faculty and staff use Johnson gym to practice, play or relieve stress.


A dimly-lit locker room in Johnson Gym. Proposed renovations would replace the aging facility with state-of-the-art amenities.

When walking through Johnson gym, one can see how outdated the building is. Whether it be the limited natural lighting, original tiled halls, outdated restrooms and locker rooms, or lack of space, the center seems to date itself by the day.

The center opened in 1957. It is named after legendary UNM basketball coach Roy Johnson, nick-named “Old Iron Head.”

Jim Todd, Director of Recreational Services at UNM, says it’s time for change and that the students, staff and faculty deserve better.

Todd says Johnson center has limited space and activities are often curtailed because spaces are occupied. Physical Education classes have priority over the general public, which causes complaints.

The overall layout of the center can be described by many as “maze-like,” with limited open space and little natural lighting.

The heating, ventilation and cooling systems inside Johnson Center are older and not “green.” Todd says plumbing and electrical systems are inefficient causing operating costs to be higher than they should be.

UNM Falling Behind Peer Institutions

“We have seen other schools build and renovate their wellness centers,” Todd said. “It’s about time we jump on the train and get ours up there with the best from around the country.”

Colorado State University recently renovated its existing wellness center. The school added over 61,000 square feet of new construction and renovated the interior of the already existing Student Recreation Center.

Included in the additions were a climbing wall, expanded fitness center, new multi-athletic court, juice bar, meeting rooms, game room and renovated locker rooms.

“I absolutely love the new rec center. It’s such an upgrade from what I’m used to,” said Arianna Bieg, a sophomore at the Colorado State University. “It has provided me not only a space to workout, but also to hang out with my friends and get away from school for a bit.”

Other universities including San Diego State University, Purdue University, Bowling Green State University, and Abilene Christian University have already renovated or are planning on renovating fitness centers in the next couple of years.

Survey says…

A survey conducted by UNM Recreational Services in 2013 found students most wanted these top four additions to campus:

  • More weight lifting and cardio facilities
  • Indoor running track
  • Rock climbing wall
  • Leisure pool
UNM Students "voted" with stick-on dots in favor of wellness center amenities

UNM Students “voted” with stick-on dots in favor of wellness center amenities


The High Cost of Modernization

Money is the big issue delaying a fitness center upgrade. One question constantly being raised is where are the funds going to come from?

Todd said his best guess right now is state funding… and student fees.

“I know that student government will petition the President’s Office to come up with capital funding and state money,” said Todd. “I don’t know if that’s possible but I would speculate that they shouldn’t bear the entire cost.”

One of the wellness center proposals has an estimated cost of $69 million, which includes a leisure pool, climbing wall, and weight/cardio room among other features.

A cheaper proposal has an estimated cost of $36 million, which includes indoor running track, climbing wall and outdoor shop.

The most elaborate proposal has an estimated cost of $86 million, which includes an upgrade to the Olympic pool, addressing building code issues, and building a leisure pool.

Student fees would likely increase to help support the new center. The numbers are still up in the air, however.

“I would definitely be willing to pay an increased rate in my fees if it meant new facilities to workout in,” said Kyle Spielbusch, a junior at UNM. “I use the place a couple times a week and it would just be nice to have state of the art facilities and a cool place to work out in.”

The Board of Regents gave no comment regarding any estimated costs of the project.

Re-approval Process

Todd said that he doesn’t know if any action will be taken based on the three proposals sent to ASUNM, the President’s Office and the Provosts Office. He said that he has not spoken to the new ASUNM President to see what her aspirations for the project are.

The overall project has to be approved by the Board of Regents. Project presentations will need to made to various subcommittees of the Regents including finance and facilities, and student affairs.

Todd said that if students get behind the project and support it, then UNM will present the project to the Board of Regents.

“There’s a lot of refinement going on… going through and making revisions to that (proposal) and trying to just keep narrowing it in and becoming more detail oriented.”

There is no official date as to when these possible renovations would take place but there are high hopes, according to Todd, that it will be done within the next 5 years.

Kyle Tomasi is a student at the University of New Mexico majoring in multimedia journalism and psychology. He works for The Daily Lobo, the student run newspaper at UNM.


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