In the midst of changes, Macon State continues recreation center project

jmink@macon.comNovember 21, 2012 

At one local college, students have opted to pay for some extra amenities: a bowling alley, a video game room, a racquetball court and more.

In January, the merger of Macon State and Middle Georgia colleges will not be the only project under way at the Macon campus of what will be Middle Georgia State College. Construction will begin on a $21.5 million recreation and wellness center, giving students activities and entertainment they have never had before, officials say. It’s expected to be completed March 2014.

In fact, the new 82,500-square-foot building was the students’ idea. Macon State’s student government began pushing the project more than two years ago by promising to pay a special fee for the new facility. Students in Macon pay a fee of $140 per semester and those taking classes in Warner Robins pay $40 for the facility. (Students in Warner Robins pay less because the new recreation center will be in Macon.) When Middle Georgia State opens in January, students at the Cochran, Eastman and Dublin campuses will not pay those fees, officials say.

“We’re in a transition here,” Macon State interim President John Black said. “We’ve always had great education, but students can (choose to) go ... where they have a good time.”

The upcoming consolidation with Middle Georgia College -- which will result in about 5,000 students at the Macon campus -- reaffirmed Macon State’s decision to go forward with the project. But the new recreation center was planned before the merger, officials say.

After all, the consolidation is not Macon State’s only transition.

When the school opened in 1968, it was a commuter college. But over the past couple of years, the college has morphed into a commuter and residential school. In fall 2010, Macon State opened its residential housing with 320 beds for students. Now all of those beds are filled, said Nancy Stroud, vice president of fiscal affairs at Macon State.

As more students live on campus, they yearn for additional activities.

“When you become a residential campus, you’re a destination, and students come certainly for the education, but they expect more in terms of recreation and wellness and fitness opportunities,” Black said. “And, quite frankly, we didn’t have much here.”

There’s an “old” gym that was built when the university was constructed about 45 years ago, Black said. A small wellness center has some weights and a few cardio machines but no space for aerobic classes or much of anything else, Stroud said.

So when they planned the new, two-story recreation center on the north side of the Macon campus lake, students and administrators wanted it to house activities for everyone. There will be a bowling alley, a pool, a room for interactive games, a snack bar, racquetball, basketball and volleyball courts, a walking track, and a fitness area with aerobic rooms, weights and work-out machines. No additional faculty will be hired, but the new center will require part-time workers, such as lifeguards and bowling alley custodians, officials said.

“We didn’t want this to be a gym,” Stroud said. “This is not just a gym -- it’s recreation.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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