When the Student Recreation Center opened its doors 20 years ago today, it quickly became one of the busiest places on the Pullman campus and one of the most admired recreation centers in the nation.

University Recreation leaders Joanne Greene, director of programming, and Jeff Elbracht, director of facilities, were working as graduate assistants when the SRC was built and vividly remember the mad rush leading up to its scheduled opening on Jan. 19, 2001.

“Joanne and I stopped by the building during the first week of January and plywood was still covering the entrance to the building–the front doors weren’t attached yet,” Elbracht said. “Also, the equipment began arriving before the flooring was complete, so there was a scramble to get that done.”

The end-result of that scrambling, according to Greene and Elbracht, was a state-of-the-art, student-centered building on the Pullman campus that garnered numerous national awards and has withstood the test of time.

Conceived by students

Mask-wearing students exercise at the WSU Student Recreation Center.

Steve Wymer, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Silicon Valley in Milpitas, Calif., calls the SRC project the greatest example of collaboration, teamwork, and vision he has ever participated in.

WSU’s president at the time, Sam Smith, appointed Wymer to serve on the building’s planning committee, and as an Associated Students of Washington State University (ASWSU) senator, vice president and eventually president, he helped lead the multiyear project from start to finish.

“We crafted a student referendum that was required to fund the bonds the Regents would authorize,” Wymer said. “We needed a high percentage of favorable votes and I probably knocked on 5,000 doors campaigning for it that year, and I’m not exaggerating.”

After the referendum passed and construction was underway on the $40-million building, he remembers spending many late nights in the Compton Union Building (CUB) crafting the SRC’s bylaws. He also remembers occasionally parking his beat-up Honda Accord across the street from the construction site, with snow on the ground and the heat cranked up, just to watch with amazement his dream project become reality.

“The real legacy of this amazing facility is that it was conceived of by students, paid for by students, designed by students, and largely run by students,” Wymer said. “I know I am extraordinarily biased, but that makes this building the most significant facility in WSU history.”

More than a gym

Closeup of the SRC under construction
The SRC under construction.

Twenty years have passed since Wymer’s days of watching the construction from his car, and he, Greene, and Elbracth believe the SRC is still a shining example of what a student recreation center can and should be. The Pullman campus community seems to agree: during a typical year, an average of 3,000 students, faculty, and staff visit the SRC each day. Well over 12-million have used the facility since it opened.

“In terms of the breadth and depth of our services, as well as the number of students we serve, we are one of the best in the nation,” Greene said. “Also, our members always tell us that they appreciate how clean and well maintained our facility is.”

The building provides 160,000 square feet of exercise space where patrons can engage in activities for just about every interest: swimming, running on an indoor track, playing roller hockey, taking a kickboxing class, or shooting baskets.

Although maintaining physical fitness is at the core of everything the SRC offers, Greene said a survey her staff conducted a couple of years ago revealed that students value the SRC just as much for helping them maintain their mental health.

“Overwhelmingly, they said coming to the recreation center helps them relieve stress and it makes them feel good,” Greene said. “They are telling us that now, during the pandemic, they need the SRC open specifically for their mental health.”

The chair of the University Recreation Advisory Board, WSU junior Christian Anderson, describes the SRC as a place where students can escape their phone and computer screens, exercise, and socialize.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed plans for a substantial anniversary celebration to the fall, but that is not stopping Greene, Elbracht, and others from celebrating the many ways the SRC has positively impacted students, faculty and staff over the years.

In particular, Greene and Elbracht are proud of studies showing that students who use the SRC perform better academically.

“Yes, the SRC is a gym, but it is much more than that,” Elbracht said.