More than a Gym: Wake Forest Transforms Historic Reynolds Gym into Wellbeing Center

A new 25-yard, eight-lane pool, surrounded by glass walls and three-story arched windows, is the center piece of the third and final phase of the transformation of historic Reynolds Gym into the Wake Forest Wellbeing Center.

The original pool, state-of-the-art when it was built in 1956, was accessible only through narrow hallways and outdated locker rooms.

The campus grand opening-held in the spring of 2018-introduced the Wake Forest community to the pool and more than 50,000 square feet of renovated space including group fitness studios for students, faculty and staff and multipurpose rooms for intramural and club sports. The additions were part of a three-year renovation project to create a comprehensive wellbeing center.

“We seek to educate the whole person at Wake Forest, and this new facility encourages and provides many opportunities to pursue holistic wellbeing,” said Nathan O. Hatch, Wake Forest President. “That is why we are naming this the Wake Forest Wellbeing Center. I hope this is a place where all will be supported as they pursue a commitment to health and wellbeing. May it be here where we build rewarding relationships, develop the ability to thrive in the midst of challenge and live with a deep sense of purpose.”

Leadership gifts through the Wake Will Lead campaign helped make the $60 million Reynolds Gym transformation project possible.

A Holistic Hub for Wellbeing

The entire wellbeing center, including the historic W.N. Reynolds Gym and the Sutton Center, is approximately 180,000 square feet, making it the second largest building on campus after Z. Smith Reynolds Library.

About 85 percent of the Wellbeing Center is dedicated to fitness, recreation and social space. The remainder is offices, including Student Health Service, the SAFE Office, the Office of Wellbeing, Campus Recreation, and support services.

Phase II opened in August 2017 with new state-of-the-art fitness equipment, a 3,000 square-foot open living room, a bouldering and climbing wall and fitness space for weight training and other activities. The Sutton Center, a remarkable two-story addition to the gym named for Wake Forest alumnus and IMG College founder Ben Sutton, debuted in 2016.

With 46,000 square feet of space for fitness programming and campus activities, including two full-size gymnasiums, the Sutton Center is connected to Reynolds Gym by a floor-to-ceiling atrium. The Outdoor Pursuits office, which sponsors adventure trips and rents outdoor equipment, is located on the lower level.

“Transforming the 60-year old Reynolds Gym into a Wellbeing Center further distinguishes Wake Forest as a leader among universities taking a comprehensive approach to wellbeing,” said Vice President for Campus Life Penny Rue, who swims laps four or five times a week.

Rue knows water sports may not be for everyone, but she is committed to building a campus community where everyone can find ways to thrive. “We’ve made a significant investment to create a place at the heart of campus devoted to the social, physical and mental wellbeing of the Wake Forest community,” Rue said. “We knew we wanted this space to be more than a gym.”

Making a Splash

Beginning in July of 2016, construction crews removed bleachers in the original pool area in order to widen the pool, expand the pool deck and create space for second floor hallways connecting to the new group exercise spaces, classroom, and club sport spaces. From the main entrance to Reynolds Gym, a half flight of stairs leads to an informal gathering space with comfortable furniture that overlooks the pool and one more flight down leads to the pool entrance.

Three-story windows bring ample natural light into the new pool area and solar panels help heat the water. A wheelchair lift makes the pool handicapped accessible. One end features a diving board, while the other has a large whirlpool in the shape of the University logo.

“I think having high-quality, attractive, and accessible recreation facilities are important for students so that they will make it a priority to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” said Cameron Perry,” a junior accounting major from Raleigh. Perry worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor at the old pool during her first two years on campus and now works on the aquatics staff in the new space. “These facilities will ensure that they will be excited about going to the gym and trying out the different services it offers.”

Group Fitness: Mind and Body

From fencing to mixed martial arts to dancing to wrestling, the new multipurpose rooms provide dedicated practice space for many of the University’s 35+ club sport teams and other student organizations.

“Wake Forest students are extremely active. Many of them have been varsity athletes in high school, so they want to continue to be physically active in college,” said Joe Cassidy, Wake Forest’s executive director of campus recreation. “Our intramural and club sports programs offer more sports and have a higher participation than the vast majority of our peers even though Wake Forest’s enrollment is smaller.”

The new exercise studios support the physical and mental wellbeing, not only of students, but also of faculty and staff. Group exercise rooms on the second floor offer space for fitness classes such as Zumba, Cross training, and HIIT. The mind/body studio has a barre and a yoga wall. The mat room has wall-to-wall mats that can be unfolded for wrestling, martial arts or other practices. The cycle studio and large group exercise studio feature virtual reality technology to allow virtual instructors to teach classes.

Students can connect their phones to the sound system to broadcast selected music in the fitness and multipurpose rooms. “The new spaces have certainly created a different atmosphere in Reynolds Gym that feels more inclusive and energetic,” said Lilli Cooper, a first-year student from Richmond, VA. “Students have made Reynolds Gym an integral part of their time at Wake.”

Supporting Student Health

The third floor is home to the Intramural/ Club Sports office, as well as conference rooms and training areas.

The footprint for Student Health Service, whose primary new space was part of Phase II renovations, has expanded with the latest renovations to include new offices and meeting rooms. The University’s volunteer, student-run Emergency Medical Services has a new home on the ground floor.

The location of the Student Health Service within the wellbeing center “creates the possibility for collaboration on projects and programs and sharing information with students,” said Cecil Price, director of Student Health Service. “Collaboration and sharing means students get better care from us.”

About the Author
Cheryl V. Walker is Director of News & Communications at Wake Forest University.