Florida Gulf Coast’s Outdoor Fitness Center Has Strong Results

In November of 2021, Florida Gulf Coast University’s (FGCU) new 6,000-square-foot outdoor fitness center Rec Deck opened to the student body.

Suzanne Ries, the director of the University Recreation & Wellness Center, said they are averaging over 1,000 participants a month since the new facility opened.

“That is 50% more than the participation in our cardio area,” said Ries. “Based on the data and what we have seen, it’s faring really well. Our student’s love the space. We’ve been blown away with how much it is actually being used daily. Students are coming through our doors just to workout at our Rec Deck.”

EXTRA CREDIT: A recent study researched the impact of outdoor gyms on activity levels.

The new space lies adjacent to FGCU’s recreation center and participants can only access the Rec Deck by entering the main entrance of our recreation center and through the strength floor.

FGCU’s Rec Deck Features and Equipment

  • A 20-foot BeaverFit/PLAE Scout Locker including:
    • Four half racks
    • Pull-up stations
    • Battle rope attachments
    • Dip attachments
    • Jump platforms
    • Landmines
    • Storage for weight plates, bars, medicine balls, kettlebell, etc.
  • PLAE Discover equipment including:
    • Monkey bars with finger boards and boulder grips
    • 12-foot ball wall
    • Balance beam
    • Parallel bars
    • Stall bars with flying pull-up
    • Plyometric steps
    • Push-up station
  • PLAE Blitz Turf with 40-yard ladder and dash striping
  • Shade canopies
  • Lights for nighttime activity
  • Speakers that tie into the indoor facility sound system
  • Benches, tables and open space for group training

Benefits, Struggles and Advice

Ries said FGCU’s enrollment is approaching 16,000 students, and they have less than 50,000 square feet of indoor recreation space.

FGCU students often use the six available power racks inside, but they are rarely ever open during peak times of the day.

“It is almost impossible to access those power racks during our peak time,” said Ries. “This outdoor fitness space has given us additional fitness space and four additional racks. We have been able to accommodate more participants and have given them an opportunity to design their own functional workout with the added space and equipment.”

Ries added she noticed more female participants utilizing the outdoor space compared to their indoor free weight space.

She theorized that pattern may be because indoor free weight space is in the center of the facility, and some may not like the added attention while working out.

EXTRA CREDIT: Here’s how one campus rec center made female exercisers more comfortable in open fitness areas. 

Another important benefit of the outdoor space was the relatively low price of construction and its proximity to the main indoor facility.

“If you have the opportunity to incorporate it as an addition to your current indoor space, it helps to lower staffing costs and helps to mitigate risks as we operate the space as part of our indoor space,” said Ries. “Last I checked, the average cost to build indoor recreation space was $500 per square foot, and the outdoor space cost us $100 per square foot. So, if you are looking to expand or build this may be a more feasible option.”

Ries advised others thinking about constructing a similar facility to create enough open space for participants to spread out and to allow for larger programming.

Also, the hottest part of the year has yet to strike southwest Florida, so Ries is curious how that season will impact participation at the Rec Deck.

But she remains very confident the outdoor fitness center will continue to advance the mission of her department.

“This new space is allowing our students and members to explore and try new things, while being outside,” said Ries. “Combining these elements contribute exponentially to the overall well-being of our students and members.”

 

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