The University of Utah is in the middle of a new $34 million student recreation center project.

Mary Bohlig, director of campus recreation, said plans for the facility are still in the proposal phase but will go to the state Legislature this spring for approval. The proposed facility would include an aquatics area with two pools, numerous courts, a climbing and bouldering wall, a juice bar, 17,000 square feet for cardiovascular equipment, circuit and free weights, multipurpose rooms for yoga, dance and tai chi, a computer kiosk and a lounge area.

Utah's campus recreation department began moving toward the construction of a new facility after the results of a 2003 survey. The survey polled 3,500 Utah students and concluded that 66 percent were in favor of raising fees, up to $60 a semester, to build a recreation center.

"We felt that since we are primarily funded through student fees that it was our obligation to give them what they wanted," said Bohlig.

John Poelman, vice president of the Associated Students of the University of Utah, said the project has been a student-driven initiative. He feels the new recreation center is important to the student body for many reasons.

"Utah is a commuter campus, and we are always looking for ways to attract students and keep them on campus longer," said Poelman. "With a recreation center, students can be completely unaffiliated and still find a way to be involved."

In addition to increased student involvement, Poelman feels that a new recreation center could potentially attract students for enrollment and re-enrollment.

"That's not the intent, but it is a good by-product," he said. There is plenty of evidence that students do, in fact, pay attention to university recreation programs.

A Kerr and Down Research survey conducted in 2001-02 showed that recreation programs were ranked fifth out of 21 factors most significant in determining college satisfactions.

This is something that is apparent to John Knight, director of campus recreation for Weber State University.

"Recruitment and retention is definitely linked to recreational facilities," said Knight. "I know that a campus recreation center would allow us to do a lot more of that."

Even though Weber State doesn't currently have any project under way, Knight is trying to get an advisory board of students and faculty to look into what it would take to get a new facility.

Utah and Weber State are not the only local universities that recognize this trend.

Over the past year, Westminster College has enhanced its program by adding a rock-climbing wall and offering more free aerobics classes to students. In early 2006, the college will open a new Health, Wellness and Athletics center.

Alesha Kientzler, director of health and fitness for Westminster, believes that the growing importance of recreational programs on campus is linked to the research that surrounds us. "Much data suggests strong positive correlation between being physically active, and success in life and academics," she said.

According to Kientzler, Westminster sees the importance of providing students with the opportunity to improve their overall well-being. She feels the forthcoming recreation center will be a tremendous addition to the campus.

Currently Utah State University is also upgrading its Health Physical Education and Recreation building to provide more activity space for students. Kevin Kobe, director of campus recreation, said the HPER is one of the "most used buildings on campus."

The plans for the HPER are still in the works, but could involve anything from remodeling to building an entirely new facility. However, the HPER is primarily an educational building, and hours are limited to students because they are always at the whim of class schedules.

This year, the student body is pushing for something they can call its own. "The ASUSU has made the move toward getting a campus recreation center their No. 1 priority," said Kobe.

Campus recreation centers are expensive, timely projects. Once approved, the University of Utah's center will take three years to complete. In the meantime, campus recreation has expanded the field house by adding 35 cardiovascular machines, a circuit weight area, a new student lounge and four computers with Internet access.

Better recreation centers are proving to be high on student demands, and possibly even necessary for Utah schools to stay in the competition. According to Bohlig, student use has gone up significantly since the expansion of the U. field house. The first week of classes, they experienced a 45 percent increase.

"That tells me they want this recreation center," said Bohlig. "Students would love to have this building."