The final decision on the new location of the DePauw Health Wellness Center could be made on Thursday, Oct. 3.
Warren Whitesell, associate vice president of facilities management, will present an update to the building and grounds subcommittee of the Board of Trustees on the plans for relocating the Wellness Center to the second floor of Lilly Fitness Center, taking out the auxiliary gym and three kinesiology classrooms.
The committee already authorized the project and the funds necessary to build and design the new home for the Wellness Center, but Whitesell said he will be using the opportunity to share campus concerns with the Board. He is waiting for their input on how to proceed.
News of the proposed new home for the Wellness Center spread when Mary Bretscher, former associate athletic director, wrote a letter to the editor of The DePauw two weeks ago.
Student organizations weren’t shown the proposed floor plan until this past Sunday at an Assembly Meeting held by DePauw Student Government (DSG), just two weeks before fall break when construction on the center’s new home is scheduled to begin.
“It was presented as if this is something that’s up in the air, like if enough dissent is voiced about it, it could be changed,” said senior Melissa Browning, member of the volleyball club. “However, they also said that it was planning to happen over fall break, which is next week. So, I’m just curious about how much realistic change is possible.”
Browning said she thinks the move would be detrimental for students playing recreational sports.
“Intramural sports use the auxiliary gym, as well as students who like to shoot hoops,” Browning said. “So, I think that taking over that space is going to create a lot of competition for those people, and it’s going to diminish their opportunities to play recreational sports.”
Whitesell, who was part of the group involved in identifying potential new locations for the Wellness Center, said the university knew it would be hard pressed to find a space large enough that also wouldn’t affect people.
“We’re going to see what we can do to help offset and provide space for events. Unfortunately, I mean, none of this is perfect or without impact,” Whitesell said.
A new home for the Wellness Center is necessary in order for the Campus Housing Master Plan to stay on schedule, according to Whitesell. Hogate Hall, where the Wellness Center is currently located, is scheduled to be torn down at the end of the school year.
While locations including the Honor Scholar Building, kinesiology office space and the Union Building ballroom were considered, the group ultimately felt the second floor of Lilly was the best option because it was the largest amount of contiguous space.
The Wellness Center identified its needs before considering possible locations, according to Whitesell. It was decided that the new location needed roughly 8,000 square feet to be able to meet the mental and physical health needs of students, staff and faculty, while maintaining privacy.
“There aren’t any places on campus that I know of, of that size, that aren’t in use by some portion of the DePauw community,” Whitesell said.
Whitesell and the group wanted to avoid building a new space and instead hoped to identify a space that could be repurposed for the Wellness Center.
“One of our goals has been…to try to maximize existing square footage, if at all possible,” Whitesell said. “If we continue to add square footage, that means we’re increasing our energy footprint, increasing our greenhouse gas footprint, carbon footprint.”
Bretscher called the plan in her letter to the editor “an extremely short-sighted decision that is counterproductive to our students’ wellbeing.”
Bretscher was involved in planning the layout of the Lilly Center. Before the Lilly Center was planned, Bretscher said that non-athletes weren’t guaranteed to have a place to work out because athletic teams were prioritized for gym time. In her letter, Bretscher said the auxiliary gym was included “to meet the demand of the general student population. That was the case 38 years ago and has not changed.
“I think it’s one of those things that if it goes away, the students are going to miss it,” Bretscher said. “They’re not going to at this point think about it that much, but when it comes time to say ‘We want to find the space for this. Oh, there is no space,’ I think that’s when the reality is going to set in.”
Alyssa Fisher, junior and co-captain of the cheer team, was present at the DSG meeting and felt that students weren’t being heard.
“It felt as if whatever we said didn’t really matter because the decision had been made for us already with no student input.”
The cheer team is one of many organizations that uses the auxiliary gym regularly to practice. Fisher explained that the team uses the gym for up to eight hours a week for practices and pre-game warm ups.
Fisher said that at the beginning of each year, the cheer team tries to reserve the aux gym first in order to ensure they have a specific practice schedule.
“Usually, we can block it out for the entire semester, but they told us we could only have it until fall break with no answer as to why.”
Fisher said she felt “blindsided” when she found out why they weren’t able to book their practice time past fall break at the student assembly meeting.
“I’m all for the Wellness Center getting the space and support it deserves, but as a club striving to be more sport-like, it definitely pushes us back towards the club category,” Fisher said.
Sophomore Maddie Dixon is concerned about the loss of kinesiology classrooms.
“By replacing the already limited classrooms with a new health center, it will make schedules for the department disoriented,” Dixon said.
On Thursday, Whitesell wants to make sure no stone is left unturned, “We’re trying to just reevaluate and make sure.”