20 Most Impressive College Gyms and Student Rec Centers

illinois state
Today’s state-of-the-art student recreation centers make college gyms of old seem almost unrecognizable. The top university fitness centers compete on a level with the finest private clubs in the nation. In addition to devoting substantial space to aerobic equipment, weight machines, and free weights, the best modern university gyms also incorporate elements such as rock climbing, bouldering, sand volleyball, indoor tracks, whirlpools, saunas, golf simulators, Pilates and martial arts studios, and more.

From aesthetic and environmental standpoints, they also excel. Many of the rec centers we evaluated are winners of multiple significant design awards. A large number of them were also developed with environmental and efficiency standards in mind, and consequently received LEED ratings from the USGBC.

Modern student recreation centers add value to an education on a variety of levels. Students have access to more diverse opportunities for physical fitness and recreation. Aesthetically, these facilities enhance the appearance and appeal of a university campus. They help improve students’ health and well-being and the quality of campus life overall.

Because of the increasingly important role these facilities play in university life, our editors sought to understand the trend more deeply and invested several weeks researching the ultimate student recreation and campus fitness centers. In doing so, they consulted university websites, local and regional news sources, and portfolios of architecture, project management and construction firms, and specialty vendors. They were looking for facilities that offered both outstanding opportunities for physical recreation and also exceptional attention to design detail and aesthetics. They were especially interested in projects that emphasized operating efficiencies and sustainability – in particular, those with a U.S. Green Building Council LEED rating. (For information about these ratings, see USGBC.org.) For purposes of this article, only projects completed within the past ten years (2003 or later) were considered.

Rating and Ranking Methodology

In evaluating each facility, the editors awarded points as follows. It’s not a perfect system, but it gives you a sense of our editors’ priorities with respect to this particular research.

LEED Rating

  • 3 points – LEED Platinum rating
  • 2 points – LEED Gold rating
  • 1 point – LEED Silver rating

Design Awards

  • 2 points – Major (national or international) design award
  • 1 point – Regional or local design award

Additional Criteria

  • 1 point – Sports/fitness specific award
  • 1 point – 8 sq. ft or more per student in the new and/or renovated space (Student enrollment figures were taken from Wikipedia.org.)
  • 1 point – “Wow” factor – amenities beyond traditional fitness facilities, such as rock climbing walls.

Best College Gyms and Recreational Centers

After reviewing these and dozens more exceptional candidates, we believe that the twenty represented in this list are the best of the best – the standard by which other student recreation facilities will be judged for years to come. We order them here by number of points awarded in our point system (least to greatest). In the event of a tie, we ordered the facilities alphabetically by university name.

 

The University of Texas – Pan American

Wellness & Recreational Sports Facility

u of texas wellness center
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In 2009, when it won the NIRSA Outstanding Sports Facilities Award, The University of Texas – Pan American Wellness & Recreational Sports Facility boasted the highest indoor climbing wall in the state (35′), along with a juice bar, indoor soccer facility, lap pool, lazy river, and indoor track. Today, the center is also home to dance fitness and Salsa dancing lessons, among a variety of other fitness and recreational programs.

Total points: 2

  • Sports-specific award: 1
  • “Wow” factor: 1 (rock wall and more)

Architect: F & S Architects
Cost: $26 million
Students: 20,045
Size: 88,230 sq. ft (4.4 sq. ft. per student)
LEED Certification: n/a

Awards:

  • National Intramural Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA): Outstanding Sports Facilities Award (2009)

 

Montclair State University

Student Recreation Center

montclair
 

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This winner of national and regional awards incorporates a jogging/walking track, racquetball courts, a six-lane pool, and a juice bar. The nearly $23 million, 78,800 sq. ft project was completed in 2008.

Total points: 3

  • Major design award: 2
  • Regional or local design award: 1

Architect: RDG Planning & Design
Cost: $21.9 million
Enrollment: 13,500
Size: 78,000 sq. ft (5.8 sq. ft. per student)
Completed: 2008
LEED Certification: n/a

Awards:

  • Innovative Architecture and Design Award: Recreation Management
  • Excellence in Design Award: New Jersey Recreation & Park Association (2009)

 

University of Missouri – Columbia

MizzouRec

u of missouri
 

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This massive 293,000 square foot project was completed in 2005 at a cost of close to $40 million. The indoor beach club features whirlpools, waterfalls, and a lazy river complete with waiters who serve wraps and protein shakes. It helped propel the university to a place on Shape Magazine’s coolest clubs in America 2013, Fitbie’s 20 Fittest Colleges, and theactivetimes.com 50 Fittest Colleges.

Total points: 3

  • Sports specific award: 1
  • “Wow” factor: 1 (rock climbing tower)
  • 8+ sq ft/ student: 1

Architect: Hastings & Chivetta Architects Inc.; St. Louis, Mo.
Aquatic Design Engineer: Counsilman Hunsaker – St. Louis, Mo.
Enrollment: 34,616
Square Feet: 293,000 (8.46 sq. ft. per student)
Completed: 2005
Cost: $38.9 million
LEED Certification: n/a

Awards:

  • Shape Magazine Award

Other honors:

  • Fitbie 20 Fittest Colleges in America
  • #26 among The 50 Fittest Colleges (theactivetimes.com)

 

University of Pennsylvania

David Pottruck Health and Fitness Center

upenn
 

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Completed in 2003, this $21 million project expanded an aging campus gym, ultimately encompassing 120,000 square feet and incorporating 4 fitness centers, olympic-size pool and co-ed sauna, climbing wall, golf simulator, Pilates studios, and more. That same year, it won the “Addition to Existing Structure” award from Buildings.com.

Total points: 3

  • Major design award: 2
  • “Wow” factor: 1 (climbing wall)

Architect: Richard Dattner & Partners Architects PC
Cost: $21 million
Enrollment: 21,329
Size: 120,000 sq. ft (5.6 sq. ft. per student)
Completed: 2003
LEED Certification: n/a

Awards:

  • Addition to Existing Structure Winner: Buildings.com (2003)

 

University of Wisconsin – Green Bay

Kress Events Center

kress
 

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Of all the facilities in our list, the Kress Events Center is the most generous in terms of square footage per student, at 26 square feet per student. The $28.5 million project incorporates a suspended running track, a climbing wall, and a pool.

Total points: 3

  • Regional or local design award: 1
  • “Wow” factor: 1 (climbing wall)
  • 8+ sq. ft per student: 1

Associate Architect: Moody-Nolan Inc.
Architect of Record: Venture Architects Inc. (a joint venture of Kahler Slater and Zimmerman Architectural Studios)
Cost: $28.5 million
Enrollment: 6,665
Square Feet: 175,000 (26 sq. ft. per student)
LEED Certification: n/a

Awards:

  • Innovation in Architecture and Design Award – Recreation Management magazine

 

California State University, Fullerton

Student Recreation Center

cal state fullerton
 

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Cal State Fullerton’s award-winning Student Recreation Center boasts exceptional fitness facilities including a climbing wall, jogging track, multimedia cardio rooms, and outdoor pool. Even more impressive is its status as a LEED Gold facility, which can translate to reduced carbon footprint and lower cost of operation.

Total points: 4

  • LEED Gold: 2
  • Regional or local design award: 1
  • “Wow” factor: 1 (climbing wall)

Architect: Langdon Wilson
Cost: $41M
Enrollment: 38,325
Square Feet: 95,000 (2.5 sq. ft. per student)
Completed: 2008
LEED Certification: Gold

Awards:

  • “Best Overall Sustainable Design” – University of California/California State University Energy Efficiency Partnership Program

 

Eastern Washington University

University Recreation Center

ewu
 

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Completed in 2008, this LEED Gold facility is a climber’s dream. It features an indoor climbing wall with 11 routes, including one that simulates ice climbing. A 17,000 sq. ft fitness center and 2-lane 200 meter running track round out the offering.

Total points: 4

  • LEED Gold: 2
  • “Wow” factor (ice climbing):  1
  • 8+ sq ft per student: 1

Architect: Sink Combs Dethlefs
Cost: $26.3 million
Enrollment: 12,130
Square Feet: 117,699 (9.7 sq. ft. per student)
Completed: 2008
LEED Certification: Gold

 

Rice University

David & Barbara Gibbs Recreation Center

rice
 

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This two-story SmithGroup/F&S designed facility earned LEED Silver certification and also won two sports and fitness awards, including “Outstanding Sports Facilities” from National Intramural Sports Association (NIRSA) and “Facilities of Merit” from Athletic Business Magazine. It features racquetball and squash courts along with a 50-meter outdoor competition pool and 2,500 sq. ft outdoor recreation pool.

Total points: 4

  • LEED Silver: 1
  • Sports/fitness specific award: 2 (1+1)
  • 8+ sq. ft. per student: 1

Architect: SmithGroup/F&S
Cost: $32.6 million
Enrollment: 5,008
Square Feet: 103,000 (20.6 sq. ft. per student)
Completed: 2009
LEED Certification: Silver

Awards:

  • ‘Outstanding Sports Facilities’ Award National Intramural Sports Association (NIRSA) (2011)
  • ‘Facilities of Merit’ Award Athletic Business magazine (2011)

 

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Recreation Center

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Highlights of this LEED Gold rated facility, completed in 2005, include an indoor track, 12′ bouldering wall, multipurpose studio, and an aquatic center with 25-yard lap lanes, leisure area with vortex pool, and spa/hot tub. It’s also home base for the Student Outdoor Leadership (S.O.L.E.) Center, which features outdoor trips and equipment rentals.

Total points: 4

  • LEED Gold: 2
  • “Wow” factor: 1 (bouldering wall)
  • >8+ sq. ft. per student: 1

Cost: $22.7 million
Enrollment: 9,798
Square feet: 118,000 (12 sq. ft. per student)
Completed: 2015
LEED Certification: Gold

 

Drexel University

Drexel Rec Center

 drexel
 

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Completed in 2010, this award-winning facility incorporates a multipurpose gym, jogging track, squash courts, climbing room, and group exercise rooms. The $40.2 million project won the NIRSA outstanding sports facility award, a General Building Contractors Association award, and a Facility of Merit Award from Athletic Business Magazine.

Total points: 5

  • Major design award: 2
  • Sports specific award: 2
  • “Wow” factor: 1 (climbing room)

Architect: Sasaki; EwingCole
Cost: $40.2 million
Enrollment: 25,500
Square Feet: 85,900 (3.4 sq. ft. per student)
Completed: 2010
LEED Certification: n/a

Awards:

  • Outstanding Sports Facility Award, National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association
  • Best Institutional Project Over $15 million, Construction Excellence Awards, General Building Contractors Association
  • Facility of Merit Award, Athletic Business Magazine

 

Morehead State University

Recreation and Wellness Center

morehead
 

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This LEED Silver rated facility boasts a swimming pool with sun deck, walking track, racquetball courts and three basketball courts. It also won Outstanding Sports Facilities award from Recreation Management magazine in 2012, and was featured in Athletic Business’s Architectural Showcase.

Total points: 6

  • LEED Silver: 2
  • Major design award: 2
  • Sports facility: 1
  • 8+ sq. ft. per student: 1

Architect: Hastings & Chivetta Architects
Cost: $24 million
Enrollment: 11,172
Square Feet: 100,000 (9 sq. ft. per student)
Completed: 2011
LEED Certification: Silver

Awards:

  • Recreation Management Magazine ‘Outstanding Sports Facilities’ Award (2012)
  • ‘Architectural Showcase’ Athletic Business magazine (2012)

 

University of Maine

New Balance Student Recreation Center

u of maine
 

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From this award-winning, LEED Silver rated recreation center, students can rent skis and snowshoes and access trails directly. They can also enjoy the leisure pool that incorporates two 25-yard lap lanes, hot-water-jet bench seating, and a co-ed sauna. The fitness area includes 140 pieces of cardio and weight equipment.

Total points: 6

  • LEED Silver: 1
  • Design awards: 4
  • Sports-specific awards: 1

Architect: Cannon Design
Cost: $25 million
Enrollment: 10,901
Square Feet: 87,000 (7.98 sq. ft. per student)
Completed: 2010
LEED Certification: Silver

Awards & Nominations:

  • Special Mention for Excellence in Architecture by the American Institute of Architects: New England (2009)
  • Athletic Business Architectural Showcase (2008)
  • National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) 2008 Outstanding Sports Facility (2008)

 

California State University, Long Beach

Recreation and Wellness Center

cal state lb
 

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The rock climbing wall, three-court gym, and swimming pool and spa are highlights of the $70 million center at Cal State, Long Beach. The LEED Gold rated facility has also received its share of major design awards, including one from the Society of American Registered Architects.

Total points: 7

  • LEED Gold: 2
  • Major design award: 4 (2+2)
  • “Wow” factor: 1 (rock climbing wall)

Architect: Cannon Design
Cost: $70 million
Enrollment: 34,870
Square Feet: 126,500 (3.6 sq. ft. per student)
Completed: 2010
LEED Certifications: Gold

Awards:

  • Design Award - Society of American Registered Architects
  • Innovative Architecture & Design Awards - Recreation Management

 

University of Iowa

Campus Recreation and Wellness Center

u of iowa
 

Image SourceThe aquatic center is the highlight of this award-winning $53 million facility. A 4,100 sq. ft. recreation pool with zero-depth entry, underwater benches, vortex, and current channel are just a few of the striking features. It was completed in 2010.

Total points: 7

  • Major design award: 4 (2+2)
  • Regional or local design award: 1
  • Sports-specific award: 1
  • “Wow” factor: 1 (rock climbing, pool complex)

Architect: RDG Planning & Design
Cost: $53 million
Enrollment: 31,065
Square Feet: 215,000 (6.92 sq. ft. per student)
Completed: 2010
LEED Certification: n/a

Awards:

  • ‘AIA Iowa Design’ Award (2012)
  • ‘Dream Designs’ Aquatics International magazine (2011)‘Innovative Architecture & Design’ Award Recreation Management magazine (2011)
  • ‘Facilities of Merit’ Award Athletic Business magazine (2011)

 

Illinois State University

Student Fitness Center

illinois state
 

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Boasting a generous amount of space per student, this $49.6 million, PSA-Dewberry designed facility was completed in 2010 and has won awards from American School and University magazine, Athletic Business magazine, and Recreation Management magazine.

Total points: 8

  • Major design award: 6
  • Sports specific award: 1
  • 8+ sq. ft. per student: 1

Architect: PSA-Dewberry
Cost: $49.6 million
Enrollment: 20,502
Square Feet: 180,000 (8.8 sq. ft. per student)
Completed: 2010
LEED Certification: n/a

Awards:

  • ‘Specialized Facility Citation’ – American School and University magazine (2012)
  • ‘Outstanding Sports Facilities’ – Award National Intramural Sports Association (NIRSA) (2012)
  • ‘Architectural Showcase’ – Athletic Business magazine (2012)
  • ‘Innovative Architecture & Design’ Award – Recreation Management magazine (2012)

 

Ohio State University

Recreation & Physical Activity Center (RPAC)

ohio state
 

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Thanks in part to the strength of this exceptional facility, OSU earned the title of #1 fittest college in America, as rated by mensfitness.com. It also ranked among Fitbie.com’s fittest colleges in America, where it was noted for its out-of-the-box fitness opportunities.

Total points: 8

  • Major design award: 4
  • Sports specific award: 3
  • 8+ sq. ft. per student: 1

Architect: Moody Nolan Ltd., Inc.
Design Architect: Antoine Predock
Cost: $140 Million
Completed: 2007
Enrollment: 63,964
Square Feet: 569,459 (8.9 sq. ft. per student)

Awards:

  • Ranked #5 for ‘Best Athletic Facilities’ The Best 376 Colleges: 2012 Edition
  • ‘Facilities of Merit’ Award Athletic Business magazine (2007)
  • ‘Dream Designs’ Aquatics International magazine (2007)
  • ‘Outstanding Sports Facilities’ Award National Intramural Recreational Sports Assoc (NIRSA) (2007)
  • ‘Innovative Architecture & Design’ Award Recreation Management magazine (2007)

 

California State University, Northridge

Student Recreation Center

cal state northridge
 

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Two outdoor pools and a 40-foot rock climbing wall set this facility apart. This $41 million LEED Silver rated project isn’t among the biggest on our list, but it makes up for this in its range of functional offerings and outstanding design aesthetics.

Total points: 9

  • LEED Gold: 2
  • Regional or local design award: 5
  • Sports specific award: 1
  • “Wow” factor: 1 (climbing wall)

Architect: LPA Inc.
Cost: $41 million
Enrollment: 36,070
Square Feet: 120,000 (3.3 sq. ft. per student)
Completed: 2011
LEED Certification: Gold

Awards:

  • AIA San Fernando Valley, Design Award- Citation (2012)
  • Athletic Business, Facility Merit Award (2012)
  • San Diego, Design and Vision Award- Committee of the Enviornment (COTE)-SD (2012)
  • Pacific Coast Builders Conference- Gold Nugget Award for Greenest Sustainable Commercial Project (2012)
  • AIA Orange County- Design Award, Merit (2010)
  • AIA San Fernando Valley- Design Award, Citation (2009)

 

Colorado State University

Student Recreation Center

colorado state
 

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This LEED Gold rated facility has two 38-foot-tall bridged climbing towers, an outdoor bouldering rock, a martial arts space, a multipurpose activity court, special-needs spaces, consultation rooms for personal trainers and physical therapists, a massage room and an aquatics center with a four-lane lap pool, a 35-person spa, a lazy river, a climbing wall, a shallow area for basketball and volleyball, and an on-deck sauna and steam room.

Total points: 10

  • LEED Gold: 2
  • Major design award: 6
  • Sports specific award: 1
  • “Wow” factor: 1

Architect: Hastings & Chivetta Architects; Counsilman-Hunsaker (Aquatic Design Engineer)
Cost: $28 million
Enrollment: 26,235
Square Feet: 174,300 (6.6 sq. ft. per student)
Completed: 2010
LEED Certification: Gold

Awards:

  • ‘Renovation/Modernization Citation’ American School and University magazine (2012)
  • ‘Outstanding Sports Facilities’ Award National Intramural Sports Association (NIRSA) (2012)
  • ‘Architectural Showcase’ Athletic Business magazine (2012)
  • ‘Innovative Architecture & Design’ Award Recreation Management magazine (2012)

 

Virginia Commonwealth University

Cary Street Gym

virginia commonwealth
 

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Cary Street Gym features two heated pools, a water slide, a multi-person whirlpool spa, a rock climbing and bouldering/caving wall, an 18,000-square-foot cardio/weight center, a four-court gymnasium, a three-lane indoor running track and an activity center with indoor turf. The winner of several major national design awards also carries a LEED Silver rating.

Total points: 12

  • LEED Silver: 2
  • “Wow” factor: 1 (climbing wall, water slide)
  • Major design award: 8
  • Sports specific award: 1

Architect: Moseley Architects; Smith McClain
Enrollment: 31,752
Square Feet: 127,600 (4 sq. ft. per student)
LEED Certification: Silver

Awards:

  • ‘Outstanding Sports Facilities’ Award National Intramural Sports Association (NIRSA) (2012)
  • ‘Architectural Showcase’ Athletic Business magazine (2012)
  • ‘Innovative Architecture & Design’ Award Recreation Management magazine (2011)
  • ‘Architectural Showcase’ Athletic Business magazine (2011)
  • ‘Gold Metal’ Award Building of America (2010)

 

University of Arizona

Campus Recreation Center

u of arizona
 

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The most decorated of student rec centers in the nation is the University of Arizona’s 108,000 sq. ft. facility. In addition to the typical fitness amenities are provisions for sand volleyball and bouldering. It earned a LEED Platinum rating, the highest rating available. It stands alone as the only LEED Platinum facility in our list.

Total points: 13

  • LEED Platinum: 3
  • Major design award: 4
  • Regional design award: 4
  • Sports specific award: 1
  • “Wow” factor: 1 (bouldering)

Architect: Sasaki
Cost: $22.7 million
Enrollment: 40,233
Square Feet: 54,000 (expansion only); 108,000 total (2.7 sq. ft. per student)
Completed: 2010
LEED Certification: Platinum

Awards:

  • Common Ground Award Finalist – Architecture, Planning & Design-Metropolitan Pima Alliance (2010)
  • ASUI Facility Design Award-Association of College Unions International (ACUI)
  • Best of 2010 – Best Sports/Recreation Project in Arizona-Southwest Contractor magazine
  • Excellence in Structural Engineerings Award, State of Arizona-Structural Engineering Association
  • IDEAS Award, National Certificate of Recognition-American Institute of Steel Construction
  • Merit Award – Orange County Chapter-American Institute of Architects
  • Outstanding Sports Facilities Award-National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA)

 

Additional Sources:

http://www.utsa.edu/Sombrilla/summer2009/story/loop/rec_center_receives_award.html
http://utsa.edu/today/2009/03/recaward.cfm
http://www.recmanagement.com/201005aw1b.php
http://www.shape.com/lifestyle/fit-getaways/shape-gym-awards-2013-coolest-clubs-america/slide/13
http://www.theactivetimes.com/node/327512
http://www.fitbie.com/slideshow/20-fittest-colleges-america
http://www.buildings.com/article-details/articleid/1586/title/new-construction-awards-2003-getting-fit.aspx
http://www.athleticbusiness.com/galleries/project.aspx?id=284
http://news.uwgb.edu/log-news/releases/05/06/kec-design-award_09118/
http://asi.fullerton.edu/src/sustainableDesign.asp
http://www.recmanagement.com/200905aw1a.php
http://www.counsilmanhunsaker.com/projects/rice-university/
http://www.sasaki.com/project/1/
http://www.athleticbusiness.com/galleries/project.aspx?id=486
http://www.counsilmanhunsaker.com/projects/morehead-state-university/
http://www.cannondesign.com/projects/project-catalog/recreation-center-4/
http://www.counsilmanhunsaker.com/projects/university-of-iowa/
http://www.counsilmanhunsaker.com/projects/illinois-state-university/
http://recsports.osu.edu
http://www.counsilmanhunsaker.com/projects/ohio-state-university/
http://www.theactivetimes.com/node/327512
http://www.fitbie.com/slideshow/20-fittest-colleges-america
http://src.csun.edu/about/awards.php
http://csunshinetoday.csun.edu/arts-and-culture/csuns-student-rec-center-receives-award-for-its-design/
http://www.counsilmanhunsaker.com/projects/colorado-state-university/
http://www.utsa.edu/Sombrilla/summer2009/story/loop/rec_center_receives_award.html
http://utsa.edu/today/2009/03/recaward.cfm
http://www.counsilmanhunsaker.com/projects/ohio-state-university/
http://www.mensfitness.com/training/the-25-fittest-colleges-in-america
http://www.theactivetimes.com/node/327512
http://www.fitbie.com/slideshow/20-fittest-colleges-america
http://recsports.osu.edu/posts/documents/rpac-factsheet.pdf
http://www.counsilmanhunsaker.com/projects/virginia-commonwealth-university/
http://www.news.vcu.edu/article/VCUs_Cary_Street_Gym_Wins_Recreational_Sports_Facility_Award
http://www.sasaki.com/project/2/
http://www.sundt.com/projects/university-of-arizona-student-recreation-center-expansion/