Over the past decade, Eastern Kentucky University’s campus has undergone a gradual yet dramatic facelift. The Campus Beautiful gained several new residence halls, parking structures, a new dining hall, a state-of-the-art science building and more. More recently in January 2020, Eastern unveiled a new recreation center and completely renovated Powell Student Center on Hall Drive.
Both new spaces, in conjunction with other newly completed projects, are part of an effort to centralize student life and improve access to vital campus services. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic affected usage of the spaces shortly after they opened. However, as campus life begins to resume normalcy, both areas are starting to realize their full potential.
For generations of alumni, the Powell Student Center is an iconic landmark defining life as a Colonel. It once housed offices and meeting rooms on its main floor, a cafeteria above, and the Fountain Food Court below. After many years of use and the introduction of Case Dining Hall in 2018, Powell found itself in need of new purpose and a major remodel. The new facility contains food options like Starbucks; the new campus bookstore; increased meeting spaces and a game room for students; the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs; the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs, including the new Veterans Education and Transition Support (VETS) Center; and the Office of Student Life.
The expansion of meeting and event rooms on the top floor allows extra space for students and staff to meet. In addition, the Office of Student Life is now completely housed in one building and centrally located to the students they serve.
“It’s nice to be in a space with close proximity to the other campus groups that we work with, and also to be back in a space where students are coming in and out of the building,” said Loni Yost, director of Student Life.
Just across the street from the refreshed Powell Building sits Eastern’s new campus recreation center. The facility includes a new aquatic center with a zero-entry pool, the largest ADA-accessible climbing wall on a college campus in the state, racquetball courts and three group exercise studios. The new recreation center also includes an esports lounge, featuring 24 Alienware CPUs and a golf simulator. Esports—video game sports competition—is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, especially among teens and young adults.
“We really hope that this is a recruitment tool, as well as a space that would bring in an atypical participant into our facility,” said Justin Raymer, director of Campus Recreation. “Then, they may be exposed to other programs that they may not have originally sought out.”
Both student life and campus recreation migrated to their new homes from less-centralized campus locations. Campus recreation’s previous facility on Roy and Sue Kidd Way sat on the perimeter of campus, and student life offices moved through several locations in recent years. Now, both offices are just footsteps away from Case Dining Hall and most residence halls. This is no accident. Rather, it is part of a strategy to centralize student life on campus by placing vital services where students naturally congregate.
“We’ve created this space on campus to be conducive to the traffic of students,” said Yost. “When that flows naturally to your space, it helps with promotion and engagement.”
Both Raymer and Yost have already seen a marked improvement in student involvement since the move. In its first two weeks, the new campus recreation facility garnered 8,000 student visits per week, compared to an average of 5,000 weekly visits in the previous facility.
“We have kept the students at the forefront in all of our planning,” said Yost. “Even amidst a pandemic, we’ve tried to provide them with opportunities to make their student experience special.”