New fitness center fills a big void for health and fitness programs at UNR |

New fitness center fills a big void for health and fitness programs at UNR

Duane Johnson
The E.L. Wiegand Fitness Center, a 108,000-foot fitness facility, is now open at the University of Nevada, Reno.


he opening of the E.L. Wiegand Fitness Center fills a big void for health and fitness programs at the University of Nevada, Reno campus.

The 108,000-square-foot, four-story facility opened Monday, Feb. 13, and now serves throngs of UNR students, faculty and staff.

Jim Fitzsimmons, director of fitness and recreational sports at UNR, said approximately 4,000 people used the facility the very first day, and continued with similar numbers thereafter.

Fitzsimmons, who spoke with NNBW at E.L. Wiegand’s open house on Wednesday, Feb. 15, indicated the new fitness center was necessary for attracting and retaining students, who have come to demand a wide range of fitness programs as a part of their college experience. In response to student demand, colleges and universities around the country, have invested heavily in building large, state-of-the-art fitness facilities. Fitzsimmons even joked it has become somewhat of a heated competition among schools.

“Since the late 1990s educational institutions have been installing large fitness centers like this on their campuses,” he said.

Studies provided by UNR show that up to 30 percent of prospective college students base their final decision on the variety of available health and fitness options at an institution. Further analysis indicated 75 percent of students would remain at an institution based on whether those programs meet their needs.

Fitness programs were previously housed on campus at Lombardi Recreational Center, just south of Mackay Stadium.

Originally constructed in the mid-1970s, Lombardi, while adequate, was unable to support the growing student population which is expected to grow even more in the future.

“We used Lombardi to great success for a lot of years, but this is such a huge step forward for this campus in both recruitment and retention of our students,” Fitzsimmons said. “I believe it has set a benchmark in collegiate rec and fitness facilities.”

With the advent of the new facility, Lombardi will be used to augment E.L. Wiegand’s fitness programs and serve as a training center for UNR’s collegiate athletics.

The E.L. Wiegand facility features a variety of strength training programs along with multiple multipurpose rooms on different floors that can be used for Pilates, yoga, aerobics, Zumba and other activities.

Fitzsimmons explained that the facility was designed to be flexible for the demands of the cyclical fitness environment.

“How students have trained has shifted dramatically in the last 10 years,” Fitzsimmons said. “The fitness industry is such a rapidly changing industry. We tried not to paint ourselves in a corner by not having rooms that could be flexible based on what student were doing.”

Other amenities include a one-eighth-mile running track along the perimeter of center, along with three multiuse courts.

One feature that makes the center one-of-a-kind is a fitness staircase with raised steps that can be used for various workout routines.

“It’s a completely unique feature, no one else has ever done that,” Fitzsimmons said.

Marc Johnson, president of UNR, said the concept of a fitness facility had been in discussion for several years, but the window of opportunity opened up in 2012 when UNR sold the Fire Science Academy in Carlin. Some of the $21 million in student capital improvement fees previously applied to the academy were freed up for other projects. The approval to proceed on the projects was given on Oct. 18. 2013, and ground was broken on the project on June 17, 2015.

“It had been talked about for quite a few years, but we had no source of funding for it,” Johnson said in an interview at the open house. “When we closed the academy, we went to students and asked them what they wanted done on campus. Number one was the student achievement center, but second on their list was a fitness center.”

Q&D Construction, based in Sparks, served as the general contractor on the project, while the WORTHGROUP Architects & Designers partnered with Hastings+Chivetta, a St. Louis-based firm that has years of experience designing recreational facilities.

The fitness center was built on a former metered parking lot adjacent to the Brian H. Whalen Parking Complex and Lawlor Events Center. A topic that was brought up early on in the design phase of the project was the loss of the 203 parking spaces on the lot.

“The people at UNR were concerned about the new building eliminating the parking spaces, so we proposed adding an underground parking garage,” said Fred Graham, a senior engineer in the Reno office of WORTHGROUP, which is headquartered in Denver.

The subterranean garage adds about 85 spaces, while an additional 195 parking spaces were added east of Mackay Stadium to alleviate the issue.

“It’s not usual, but it’s a big basement,” added Toby Basta, vice president-building division for Q&D Construction, about the underground garage. “It requires just a little more excavation and planning.”

Basta also said the building maximized natural lighting with views all around the building. The building was designed to meet many green building requirements, although the designers chose not to pursue LEED certification.

Q&D Construction has previously spearheaded several construction projects on the UNR campus, including the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center

Estimated total cost of the entire project was $47.5 million and was funded through $7 million in institutional funds and $2.3 million in state slotted tax bonds.

The project was also supported by more than a dozen monetary gifts including $8 million from the E.L. Wiegand Foundation, which included the naming rights. A $1.5 million gift also was presented by Mario J. Gabelli of the Gabelli Foundation, and will be recognized with the naming rights of the plaza just outside the new center.

“The reason we have names on these buildings is because we have great community support for student-oriented facilities,” Johnson said.

The E.L. Wiegand Foundation is named after Edwin L. Wiegand, an entrepreneur and inventor who moved to Reno in 1971 before passing away in 1980. The foundation bearing his name was established in 1982 and according its’ president and executive director, Kristen Avansino, has donated $50 million to causes around the Silver State.

Avansino was proud of the new building and hopes university students will enjoy the new facility.

We will a have everything from the classic weight-trainer to quiet workout in a corner,” Avansino, who also serves as an adjunct professor at UNR. “We predict people will come to experience this and they will experiment with new routines.”

UNR students voted on a fitness fee of $15 per semester for undergraduate students and approved by UNR’s Board of Regents in 2014 to aid in funding the project. Now that the fitness center is operational, the fee will be increased to $45 a semester per student.

E.L. Wiegand is open to all undergraduate and graduate students along with UNR faculty and staff on a membership fee basis. It is not open to the general public.