Ceremony celebrates new student wellness complex and health center
Contact: Melissa Vasquez, Senior Editor 956/381-2741
Posted: 10/31/2007
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The University of Texas-Pan American Wellness and Recreation Sports Complex (WRSC), which was voted on, inspired by and built for students, was officially dedicated Tuesday, Oct. 30 during a ceremony commemorating the $26 million facility.

UTPA administrators, students, staff, legislators, architects and contractors, who made the Wellness and Recreational Sports Complex possible, unveiled a bronze plaque during the dedication ceremony Oct. 30.

In addition, UTPA held a ribbon cutting for its $1.5 million Student Health Center, located adjacent to the WRSC, during the celebration. Both the health center and the WRSC opened their doors to the University community Aug. 27.

UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, who made her first appearance on campus after having had major heart surgery in September, led the ceremony decked out in workout wear along with other UTPA administrators, who were also dressed for a day at the gym.

"Thank you for taking the time to join us and to be here for the official dedication of this extraordinary student-generated, student-owned and student-inspired facility, our Wellness and Recreational Sports Complex and our Student Health Center," she said.

Cárdenas said the input and approval of UTPA students were crucial to the creation of the WRSC, which was initiated in spring 2004 with student elections being held to decide whether a fee should be created to fund the facility. Eighty-five percent of UTPA students voted in favor of the binding referendum for the establishment of the WRSC. A UTPA Recreation Sports Complex Task Force, made up of mostly students, staff and faculty, was formed and led the way to the WRSC becoming what it is today. With student needs in mind, the task force researched the construction, architecture and design of the complex Cárdenas said.

"This is a real celebration for the students of UTPA who initiated the effort that made this building a reality. It is also a real celebration for the generation of students who will follow them, who will be inspired to come here and who will be inspired to think about college as a fun and important place," she said.

Miranda Ramirez, a UTPA senior and member of the task force, said there was student input every step of the way from the choice of exercise machines to the type of furniture chosen for the complex.

"It is rewarding to see all of our ideas come to life. We wanted to not only make this new facility a place for people to workout and enhance their quality of life, but also a place to study, make new friends, and learn the importance of being healthy," Ramirez said. "This new facility has long been awaited for and the students have embraced it warmly."

She said the task force traveled to different Texas universities to get ideas for the new wellness center, and were able to discuss and implement what they discovered. Ramirez said with the WRSC in place, UTPA has become just as competitive as other universities, and it has become a place for students to unwind, relax and get fit.

Pictured left to right are Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa and State Representative Aaron Peña, who were honored with renderings of the UTPA Wellness and Recreational Sports Complex and Student Health Center during the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"It is a great time to be a Bronc. Today the Wellness and Recreational Sports Complex embarks on creating an exciting future, fostering an appreciation for wellness and recreational activity among students, faculty, staff and alumni," she said.

Also in attendance were State Representative Aaron Peña and Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, who helped clear the final hurdle in the Texas Legislature on May 25, 2005 for HB 258, which was signed by both the House and Senate, and approved the establishment of the WRSC.

"This legislation, with the help of Senator Hinojosa, was my first piece of legislation. When I drive by each day and night because I live down the road I am very proud of this facility and what is happening to this University. We are growing and we are growing fast. It has added so much to our community," Peña, who wore a UTPA cap in the spirit of the occasion, said.

Hinojosa, who sponsored the bill and considers UTPA the "economic and culture center for South Texas," said he was very proud of the students who took the lead on expanding UTPA's facilities and offerings to the University community. He said not only is it essential for the students to exercise their minds in the classroom, but it is equally important for them to exercise their bodies in the new facility.

"This is why this wellness center is so important because it goes hand in hand with getting an education," Hinojosa said.

Cárdenas thanked Dr. John Edwards, UTPA vice president for Enrollment Student Services, who was an early advocate for the wellness center and was instrumental in bringing the idea to UTPA students, for pushing the initiative forward.

Edwards said the inspiration for the WRSC came about because of the health issues facing Americans today, and also for the opportunity to create a health-conscious college campus, and develop a synergy among the UTPA community and its alumni.

"If you have good health, you have everything," he said. "That is what has driven us - that idea that our students deserve a place to exercise and to develop healthful habits."

Dr. David Prior, executive vice chancellor for Academic Affairs for The University of Texas System, who also attended the ceremony, said UTPA was blessed to have such a facility on its campus.

"A facility like this is an integral part of a University education. The wellness center will serve this campus in so many different ways. In fact it will enhance the quality of life for all our students and the community at large who participate here. It will become a focal point for students who gather here. It will transform student campus life for this particular university, but also it will be a great recruiting magnet for students who are looking at this university, and will see this as a wonderful facility," Prior said.

Pictured left to right during the Student Health Center ribbon cutting are Rick Gray, Student Health Services director; Dr. David Prior, UT System executive vice chancellor for Academic Affairs; Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, state senator; Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, UTPA president; Aaron Peña, state representative; Dr. John Edwards, vice president for Enrollment and Student Services; and Dr. Jerry Price, associate vice president and dean of students.

The goal of the 156,000-square-foot facility, located on the corner of Sugar Road and Schunior Street, is to promote recreation, health, fitness, and interaction among the UTPA community. The state-of-the-art facility provides students, staff and faculty numerous indoor and outdoor features including more than 10,000-square-feet of new weights and cardio equipment, a 34-foot climbing wall, a walking-jogging track, racquetball courts, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, aerobic studios with digital sound, outdoor tennis and sand volleyball courts, and an outdoor leisure pool with fountain, spa, and a lazy river.

The Student Health Center offers UTPA students the same types of services that can be found at their family doctor's office - general medical care as well as specialty clinics. At 7,450 square feet, the health center houses a new lab, a larger fully-licensed class D pharmacy, private waiting areas, and separate areas for check-ins and treatments. UTPA's Student Health Services is one of only six student health centers accredited in Texas by the Accreditation Association of Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC), a national organization based in Chicago that accredits ambulatory health care organizations. It was also the first in The University of Texas System to hold the AAAHC accreditation.

The general contractor for the WRSC and the Student Health Center was Wilson Construction, while architects for the wellness center were F&S Partners and Solka, Nava Torno for the health clinic.