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20 Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges

By Gabrielle Kratsas
March 2016

When thinking about college, most people consider a few main factors: price, reputation, size and location, and not many think about the student recreation centers. For those who want to find the school that fits just right, however, some aspects of the college experience that may seem small to some prospective students can carry a lot of weight.

Along with the very many frequently asked questions concerning college, many students in today’s health-driven world are wondering whether their future school will have a great place for them to work out. Luckily for them, most schools have been working hard to upgrade their recreation services and build the best fitness centers.

From Olympic-sized swimming pools to rock walls that reach the highest point in the ceiling, the school recreation centers of today put old college gyms to shame. With other features like saunas, beach volleyball, Pilates and state-of-the-art weight machines and cardiovascular equipment, a few of these student recreation centers outrank major athletic clubs throughout the nation. Did we mention that these great recreation centers are even at small colleges? Because they are, and we’ve created the following list of 20 great recreation centers at small colleges. The methodology for creating and ranking this list is explained at the end of the article.

20. Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.

The Alfond Pool at Rollins College helped earn Harold and Ted Alfond Sports Center a spot among our Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges.
Points Awarded: 3
Net Cost: $32,621

The Harold and Ted Alfond Sports Center at Rollins College houses the Athletics Department, the 2,500-seat Warden Arena, McKean Gymnasium, Daryl’s Fitness Center, and classrooms. Warden Arena is nice enough to serve as the court for the women’s basketball NCAA Division II South Region Tournament not once, but twice.

The Alfond Pool, which overlooks an eye-pleasing view of Lake Virginia, was renovated in recent years, adding new competition blocks. With facilities like the Alfond and U.T. Bradley Boathouses on campus, students often take their fitness activities to the water with sports like water skiing, rowing and sailing.

19. Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga, Calif.

The new Joseph L. Alioto Recreation Center landed Saint Mary’s College on our ranking of Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges.
Points Awarded: 4
Net Cost: $33,128

Saint Mary’s College of California opened the doors to its brand-new $23.5 million Joseph L. Alioto Recreation Center in the spring of 2015, and it is home to a 13,800-square-foot fitness area with state-of-the-art equipment, three indoor courts for basketball, soccer and volleyball and a 450,000 gallon, 10 lap lane pool with a diving board.

Notable features at this rec center include its rock climbing wall, cycling classes and hydrotherapy spa.

18. Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga.

Spelman College eliminated it’s athletic program and became one of our Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges.
Points Awarded: 4
Net Cost: $30,522

Spelman College appreciates serving its community with a great rec center so much that in the fall of 2012, it announced that it would use the nearly $1 million that had been dedicated to its intercollegiate sports program to fund a new state-of-the-art recreation center and wellness program, benefiting all 2,100. The new wellness facility opened in 2015, and it is host to a multitude of services from an indoor track and cycling room to a teaching kitchen and a multitude of fitness and wellness programs.

Here, students can attend cooking demonstration classes to learn how to eat in a healthy way to support their workout routines. Students can also take advantage of wellness services such as the Exercise Prescription, Freshman Fitness Package and One-on-One Boxing. This new building is also LEED Gold certified.

17. South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D.

South Dakota State University’s Wellness Center is one of our Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges because of the way it looks beyond fitness.
Points Awarded: 4
Net Cost: $15,380

The Wellness Center at South Dakota State University is a 74,000-square-foot, $12.1 million hub that houses state of the art fitness equipment, a variety of recreational and intramural programs, as well as effective wellness education, a student health clinic and counseling services. The Center’s Vision Statement says that they aim to be a leader “in creating a synergistic wellness environment that compels people to be the best they can be.”

The Center features an indoor pool, indoor track, three full-sized gym courts, cardio and weight training equipment, a 35-foot rock wall and over 60 group fitness classes each week, such as P90X, yoga and kickboxing. Some uncommon extras found in this rec center include the Brookings Family Planning facility and the Helping Everyone Reach Optimal Health program, a group of student peer educators uphold the benefits of wellness and adopting healthy lifestyles across the community.

16. High Point University in High Point, N.C.

The Slane Student Center is a Great Small College Recreation Center because of its state-of-the-art equipment and amenities.
Points Awarded: 5
Net Cost: $35,105

One of the 10 different recreation facilities on campus is the Slane Student Center at High Point University, which offers a wide range of industry-leading strength and cardio equipment, and each cardio machine include a high-definition TV with jacks for headphones and iPods. This fitness center also houses one of the five heated pools and jacuzzi tubs on campus, some of which are capable of fitting up to 16 people. Within this fitness center, students also have access to a suspended track, a sand volleyball court, basketball court and an aerobics room.

High Point has other great fitness-related amenities on campus, including HPU Outdoor Discovery, where students can step outside of their comfort zones on the high and low ropes challenge course.

15. Colby College in Waterville, Maine

The Harold Alfond Athletic Center at Colby College is among our Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges because of features like the field house.
Points Awarded: 5
Net Cost: $18,477

The Harold Alfond Athletic Center at Colby College the 2,500-seat Wadsworth Gymnasium, the Alfond Ice Rink, and the field house. Within the field house, students have access to an eighth-mile track, four tennis courts, a batting cage, a climbing wall and, if you can believe it, even more space that can accommodate team practices.

This recreation center complex also includes a 25-yard by 25-meter swimming pool, five international-size squash courts, the Boulos Family Fitness Center, the Carl E. Nelson Physical Therapy Center, saunas, and studio space for yoga and group exercise.

14. Washburn University in Topeka, Kan.

The Student Recreation and Wellness Center at Washburn University is among our Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges.
Points Awarded: 5
Net Cost: $11,013

The 37,000-square-foot Student Recreation and Wellness Center at Washburn University contains a gymnasium, fitness loft, indoor track, 25-foot rock climbing wall, wellness suite and more. Fitness classes include group cycling, yoga and HIIT.

In case students need a little motivation to hit the gym, Washburn offers the Active Ichabod incentive program, which participants for demonstrating healthy habits that contribute to a vital healthy lifestyle. The program recognizes all types of physical activity so that students can obtain points that are redeemable for various prizes. Another great program to get students moving at Washburn is called Bod Buddies. It connects students who enjoy particular sports, such as rock climbing or volleyball, with other like-minded students.

13. Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind.

The Allen Athletics and Recreation Center is one of our Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges because of its Wellness Incentive Program.
Points Awarded: 6
Net Cost: $22,883

The students at Wabash College can actually win prizes for working out through the Wellness Incentive Program, which allows them to earn points for workouts that go toward winning things like t-shirts, gym bags and more. For those students who aren’t interested in the traditional fitness classes, Wabash’s group fitness includes CrossFit and nutrition classes.

The Allen Athletics and Recreation Center provides students with 7,000 square feet fitness center with Cybex and Hammer Strength equipment, as well as free weights and aerobic fitness equipment. Students also have access to separate indoor and outdoor tracks, a dedicated wrestling facility and an eight-lane swimming pool. The Princeton Review ranked Wabash’s athletic facilities fourth best in the country in the 2012 Best 376 Colleges guide.

12. Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.

The Firestone Fieldhouse Pool at Pepperdine University hosted the 1984 Olympic water polo competition, which makes it one of our higher ranking Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges.
Points Awarded: 7
Net Cost: $27,644

At Pepperdine University, the Firestone Fieldhouse acts as the campus’ rec center heart. While Firestone is known primarily for hosting Waves basketball games in its 3,500-seat arena, the building is also home to a full indoor 16-foot-deep swimming pool, which hosted the 1984 Olympic water polo competition, as well as the Weight Center, the school’s largest strength training facility. The Ralphs-Straus Tennis Pavilion and Harilela International Tennis Stadium is home to nine fully-lit tennis courts and a fitness studio for fitness classes.

Pepperdine’s campus is also home to Alumni Park, a 30-acre expanse of lawns, rolling hills, ponds and coral trees where intramural and sport club events are played on the level field, and students use the rest of the park for other various recreational and social activities. Yet another notable feature of Pepperdine’s campus recreational services is The Cage, a semi-outdoor facility where students practice Crossfit-style training, powerlifting and American Ninja Warrior training. According to the school, The Cage has many fitness “toys” that cannot be found elsewhere on campus.

11. Longwood University in Farmville, Va.

The rock climbing wall at Longwood University’s Health & Fitness Center is one of the reasons it ranked among our Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges.
Points Awarded: 7
Net Cost: $15,871

Longwood University’s Health & Fitness Center is proof that small colleges do not always have small gyms. This $16.6 million rec center covers a total of 74,683 gross square feet and the fitness floor, alone, is 7,300 square feet. Here, students can find 20 pieces of selectorized weight training equipment, 40 pieces of cardio equipment, free weights and a power lifting room. In addition to the traditional group fitness studio, the H&FC offers a circuit/spinning room, two racquetball courts, a track, a rock climbing wall and a ropes course.

Longwood’s recreation center has been certified GOLD by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design based on aspects like materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, sustainable sites and more.

10. Pensacola Christian College in Pensacola, Fla.

Pensacola Christian College is the only school on our list of Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges that has a water park in its Sports Center.
Points Awarded: 8
Net Cost: $26,268

The Sports Center at Pensacola Christian College is a two-story athletic and sports facility that takes its role as a rec center pretty seriously. On the upper level, in addition to the usual college weight room, students have access to an in-line skating track.

And if that isn’t enough, this fitness center’s lower level is bound to blow your mind. Here, PCC offers its students free access to 40- and 60-foot rock climbing walls, a 12-lane bowling alley, an ice skating rink, a miniature golf course, an indoor water park and two surfing simulators, called FlowRider.

9. Rice University in Houston, Texas

Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center at Rice University earned its spot among our Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges.
Points Awarded: 8
Net Cost: $20,512

The Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center at Rice University is a $32.6 million project that was completed in 2009, providing students with a high-quality 103,000-square-foot fitness center. This SmithGroup/F&S-designed facility earned a LEED Silver certification and won two awards in 2011, including “Outstanding Sports Facilities” from National Intramural Sports Association (NIRSA) and “Facilities of Merit” from Athletic Business Magazine.

In addition to typical fitness amenities, this center features four racquetball and two squash courts, over 9,000 square feet of state-of-the-art weight and cardio equipment and 2,500 square feet of outdoor recreation. As for aquatics, students have access to an outdoor recreational pool with a volleyball net and two basketball hoops, as well as an indoor standard length competition pool.

8. University of Colorado Colorado Springs in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The UCCS Wellness Center’s LEED Gold certification earned it two points in our ranking of Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges.
Points Awarded: 8
Net Cost: $13,722

Although the University of Colorado Colorado Springs’ LEED Gold Recreation and Wellness Center was completed in 2015, the expansion project is ongoing, and state-of-the-art equipment, such as three new squat racks, are on their way to the gym as of late February 2016. Current facility features include a 12-foot bouldering wall, an indoor track and the Student Outdoor Learning Experiences (S.O.L.E) Center featuring outdoor trips and equipment rentals.

For those students who enjoy spending time in the water, Colorado Springs’ Aquatic Center is top-notch. The center features a pool with four 25-yard lap lanes, a leisure area with a vortex pool and a spa/hot tub.

7. University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in Green Bay, Wis.

The Kress Events Center is one of our Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges, and it achieved three notable recognitions.
Points Awarded: 9
Net Cost: $11,937

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay recreational services, recreational sports and athletics combine within the Kress Events Center, a $33 million state-of-the-art facility that was completed in 2007 and now offers 26 square feet per student. This center has achieved three notable recognitions: Innovation in Architecture and Design Award, from Recreation Management magazine; Best of 2007 Award/Project of the Year in the category of Sports & Entertainment by Midwest Construction; and one of the Top Projects in Wisconsin for 2007 by The Daily Reporter.

Within the Kress Events Center, students have access to a 28-foot climbing tower with six rope stations, an elevated running track, new and improved facilities for racquet sports, free weights, machines and cardio and flexibility training equipment.

6. University of South Dakota in Vermillion, S.D.

USD’s Wellness Center’s awesome architectural design helped land it on our ranking of Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges.
Points Awarded: 10
Net Cost: $15,530

When it comes a college rec center, the University of South Dakota proves that the wow factor doesn’t always come from the fancy equipment. USD’s Wellness Center offers students various awesome programs aimed to establish healthy lifestyles, including “The Biggest Loser” and a Hyper Fit Boot Camp. “The Biggest Loser” is a weight-loss camp aimed at helping students shed the freshman 15, and Hyper Fit Boot Camp is a six-week program that provides nutritional guidelines and scheduled workouts with personal trainers.

For those who aren’t interested in fitness programs or group classes, USD’s Wellness Center is an $11 million state-of-the-art fitness center fully equipped with a 38-foot rock wall with nine rope stations, TRX studioes, racquetball courts, cycling room, elevated track and cutting edge workout equipment. This rec center was the 2012 winner of the Innovative Architecture & Design Award from Recreation Management Magazine and the 2013 winner of the Outstanding Sports Facility Award from National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA); it is also certified LEED Silver.

5. University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wy.

The University of Wyoming’s Half Acre Recreation and Wellness Center offers cycling classes, like a few other schools on our list of Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges.
Points Awarded: 10
Net Cost: $11,856

In 2015 the University of Wyoming opened its recently renovated and expanded Half Acre Recreation and Wellness Center with additions like a significant increase in cardio and weight training opportunities in the 17,625 total square feet of cardio/weight equipment. Other fitness areas include three large fitness rooms, an indoor cycling studio and a dance studio. Between the two gyms, there are five basketball/volleyball courts, 10 badminton courts and an indoor soccer field/Futsal.

The outdoor program, also housed in the HARW, runs the 38-foot climbing wall pinnacle and extensive bouldering area, as well as equipment rental and a bike/ski maintenance area. The indoor pool has been updated in an L-shape, including a diving well with one and three-meter spring boards. Finally, the Wellness center offers services like massage therapy and personal training.

4. Morehead State University in Morehead, Ky.

Morehead State University’s Recreation and Wellness Center is one of our Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges and was completely funded by students.
Points Awarded: 10
Net Cost: $11,373

Morehead State University’s state-of-the-art Recreation and Wellness Center cost $24 million, but was 100 percent funded by the students, according to the school. The 100,000-square-foot building houses three basketball courts, a competition size pool with a zipline and vortex, a second outdoor swimming pool with a sun deck, walking track, over 100 machines, racquetball courts and more.

Completed in 2011, this certified LEED Silver rec center won the Outstanding Sports Facilities award from Recreation Management magazine in 2012, and was featured in Athletic Business’ Architectural Showcase.

3. Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

The Vanderbilt Recreation and Wellness Center is among our top three Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges.
Points Awarded: 11
Net Cost: $22,173

The Vanderbilt Recreation and Wellness Center at Vanderbilt University is a recently renovated facility with 290,000 square feet of indoor space and seven acres of outdoor facility space. Notable indoor attributes include a well-equipped cardio loft on the upper level, a TRX training area, a power room with ply metric stations, the Bowling Center, Demo Kitchen and more. The multipurpose indoor pool features 18 lanes, as well as a shallow rec area.

The Wellness Resource Center offers free fitness assessments for students done by professional staff, and in the fall, the Center is starting its own fitness incentive program called “Fall into Fitness.” With more than 60 group fitness classes and numerous nutrition programs, it’s no surprise that MSN ranked Vanderbilt 16 out of the 50 fittest colleges, and College Magazine ranked the school No. 4 in its Top 10 Colleges for Health and Wellness.

2. University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho

The University of Idaho’s Student Recreation Center placed second among our Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges.
Points Awarded: 11
Net Cost: $14,445

Campus Rec Magazine highlighted the University of Idaho’s Student Recreation Center as the “Rec of the Week” in their recent issue. Within the more than 80,000 square footage of this building, students have access to an indoor track, fitness classrooms, two full-sized gyms, a Multi-Activity court, weight training areas, cardio exercise equipment and the 55-foot climbing tower. Other great amenities in this rec center include a sauna, a massage center and the Outdoor Rental Center with the Northwest’s largest inventory of outdoor rental equipment.

Throughout each week, Idaho’s wellness programs offer over 100 fitness classes within the two fitness activity studios and other locations. The campus is also home to a nine-hole frisbee/disc golf course.

1. University of Maine in Orono, Maine

The University of Maine’s New Balance Student Recreation Center made it to the No. 1 spot on our list of Great Recreation Centers at Small Colleges.
Points Awarded: 15
Net Cost: $16,505

According to the University of Maine’s website, Cannon Design employed a consulting firm to survey a wide range of students, faculty and staff about what they would like to see in a campus recreation facility before designing the 87,000-square-foot New Balance Student Recreation Center. This $25 million fitness center is LEED Silver certified and was built with an open floor plan and windows that stretch from the floor to the ceiling so that students on one of the 140 pieces of workout equipment can enjoy the view of the stunning Maine countryside. It’s no surprise that this rec center was awarded a 2009 Special Mention for Excellence in Architecture by the American Institute of Architects: New England, included in the 2008 Athletic Business Architectural Showcase and named a National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) 2008 Outstanding Sports Facility (OSF) Award Winner.

Just within the leisure pool, students can enjoy two 25-yard lap lanes, a vortex current pool, a shallow splash area with fountain, a 20-person hot tub and a large area with hot-water-jet bench seating; and don’t forget about the co-ed sauna. Other amenities include a full-sized indoor hockey rink, as well as an equipment rental station so that students can rent skis and snowshoes to explore the 15+ miles of trails within the DeMerritt Forest just outside the facility. If circuit training is your thing, there is an entire well-equipped area dedicated just to that during the week, and it’s attended by an employee who can help you get the most out of your workout.


Information was sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator Database, Wikipedia, the individual schools’ websites and other “top college recreation centers” list articles.

The point system we used in our ranking works as follows:

  • Affordability: Net Cost under $10,000 (2 points) and under $15,000 (1 point)
  • Awards and Recognition: International accolade (2 points), national accolade (1 point)
  • Other Recognition: Inclusion on other noteworthy “top college recreation centers” list articles (1 point per list, capped at 5) and LEED certification (1 point for silver, 2 for gold, 3 for platinum)
  • Notable Features: Features, such as a rock climbing wall, spa amenities, beach volleyball, historical relevance, etc. (1 point each)

In cases where two or more schools have the same number of points, their rank order is determined by the schools’ affordability. The schools with lower net costs, as reported by the College Navigator Database, received the better ranking (lower net cost = lower number).

Related Resources:


College Navigator
Best College Reviews
Men’s Health
Pepperdine University
Miron Construction
Recreation Management Magazine
Longwood University
Campus Rec Magazine