Pitt leaders, students celebrate campus wellness center groundbreaking

Group of people with shovels


After outlining, plugging and promoting Pitt’s proposed wellness center since at least early 2021, Kenyon Bonner might get depleted of fresh ways to generate enthusiasm for the massive O’Hara Street project.

At the facility’s groundbreaking celebration on Sept. 29, it was clear to the dozens of Pitt community members listening that this was far from the case. 

“The new campus recreation and wellness center is more than a building, it’s a space,” said Bonner, who transitioned from dean of students to vice provost for student affairs in 2021. “More importantly, our vision and determination is to create a space that will be perceived and experienced as an environment in which those with diverse identities, abilities, physical attributes, beliefs, values and behaviors feel like they belong.”

On a crisp, windy early fall afternoon at the Benedum Hall courtyard, Bonner joined Chancellor Patrick Gallagher; Provost Ann Cudd; Danielle Floyd, president of Student Government Board; Curt Moody of Moody Nolan, the project’s key architectural firm, and others to break ground and celebrate the state-of-the-art, 270,000-square foot facility set to be completed in fall 2024.

The innovatively designed facility will include gymnasiums, fitness areas, an aquatic center, jogging track, specialized activity spaces, dining facilities and a “wellness suite” offering counseling services and “stress-free zones” where students can decompress, relax and meditate.

Complete with popcorn, refreshments, music, games and giveaways, the lively groundbreaking event set the stage for the nine-story facility to begin physically taking shape. Its completion will bring Pitt’s health and wellness offerings under one roof in what’s promised as a LEED-certified, environmentally, energy and socially friendly structure.

At an April meeting, the Board of Trustees Property and Facilities committee approved $255 million for construction of the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center.

Gallagher, echoing Bonner’s enthusiasm, and calling the groundbreaking a “really important milestone,” said “of course this is a facility, it’s a building. But I really think of it much closer to the way Kenyon was describing it: This is about a place that fulfills a need. And it’s a very important need for our campus, for students and our faculty and staff to have a place to support themselves and their own wellness, their own interactions, their own well-being. And that supports academic success. That really is a core part of our mission.

“And it’s here in the middle of our campus,” Gallagher added. “It will be the hub, the connection between upper campus and lower campus in the heart of this beautiful environment we call home here.”

Kenyon Bonner, Chanceller Gallagher and Provost Cudd

Provost Cudd cited the relevance of the project launching during 2022-23, the academic year her office has declared the Year of Emotional Well-Being.

“The ability to have health and wellness resources in one location is just key to maximizing the student experience,” she said. “And in this Year of Emotional Well-being, I really want to emphasize how important it is to be able to recreate, to find ways to lower stress and to be together and to play. It’s really important to play, and that really will enhance the academic experience in everything they do.”

Bonner introduced Floyd, a senior majoring in economics and sociology on a pre-law track, by emphasizing her attention to the mental health needs of students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The facility “will serve as a new student hub for all things student life: study spots, food options, counseling resources, fitness, yoga, e-sports,” Floyd said. “And one thing that has become apparent through a global pandemic is the need for real physical space. Over the last few years, we have seen a slate of depression and anxiety as students spent their days in the same space, often eating, sleeping and taking courses all in the same room.”

She also stressed the center’s emphasis on accessibility, equity, inclusion and sustainability, as a space for students to be “productive … balance their welfare and to be physically present with their peers. This new center is a powerful investment in our mental health and wellness,” she said.

Bonner said the idea for a new recreation and wellness center started with Pitt’s goal “to enhance our position as a world-class university that supports the holistic development and engagement of students and the community.”

In 2015, Pitt commissioned Brailsford & Dunlavey Consulting to assess current and future campus recreation, fitness and student-life demands. The resulting report concluded the quality of Pitt’s existing facilities “do not align with the caliber of the Pitt brand or that of its cross-applicant peers.” It also found student satisfaction with current campus recreation facilities was 63 percent, and faculty satisfaction was 27 percent.

“Both of those are pretty much failing grades in my opinion,” Bonner said last spring. “The bottom-line recommendation from Brailsford and Dunlavey was for Pitt to build a large, comprehensive recreation facility located in close proximity to the campus’ geographic center.”

After that, an advisory committee was formed with faculty, staff, students and administrators, who have engaged with other Pitt stakeholders to develop the current plan.

Following the groundbreaking ceremony, Bonner reiterated the need for change articulated by the committee.

“We currently have recreational facilities, and they are functional,” he admitted. “The concept here, the idea, is to bring our community together in one space that’s more centralized on campus, one that exposes students to different aspects of wellness: You can grab healthy food, hang out in a stress-free zone in between exams, you can go swimming, you can see a counselor. The idea is there is something for everyone there.

“It’s not a student union,” Bonner added, “but we’ve designed the location (with its range of and activities and services) as if was a student union. It’s not just a rec center.”

Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at shannonw@pitt.edu.


Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.

Follow the University Times on Twitter and Facebook.