UMSL Breaks Ground on Cannon Designed $36M, 94Ksf Rec Center

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The University of Missouri-St. Louis too often flies under the radar in the St. Louis region. Sure, they have the second-ranked Criminology and Criminal Justice program in the nation, and the International Business program has spent a decade in the top 20. The Colleges of Nursing and Optometry boast a board pass rate of 90 and 98 percent respectively, but UMSL’s a commuter school built on a suburban golf course, right?

For those not paying to attention to UMSL, there’s soon to be another reason to take notice. Without much fanfare, the school has broken ground on a $36M, 94Ksf student recreation center by Cannon Design. It’s a signature building on a campus perhaps known more for its parking lots.

The center will replace 332 surface parking spaces, lots C and D. The nearby 459-space Lot E remains and another 1,586 spaces can be found in adjacent garages. In recent years, UMSL has added student housing to South Campus across Natural Bridge Road. The center will be more centrally located than the existing Mark Twain Building, which dates from 1971.

Interestingly, students led the fight for a new facility, successfully campaigning for a referendum in March 2012 that adds a new $19.25 per credit hour free (up to 12 credit hours) to fund the project. The new fee totals $231, not an insignificant amount at school where in-state undergraduate credit hours are just $315.80 apiece.

Enrolled students will have free access to the new facility, while faculty, staff, and alumni will be able to purchase memberships. Construction has started and the new building is scheduled to open in Fall 2015. The university’s athletic teams will continue to use the Mark Twain Building for training and games.

{the parking lots (outlined in red) comprise a large part of the project site}

{the existing Mark Twain Building will continue to be used by UMSL athletic teams}

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  • Daron

    As a grad student, I also voted against it. The cost is too high for a school that’s supposed to be affordable for the whole region. Every student will need an extra $500 scholarship now. Or they will have to borrow it.

    The red box on your map is a little off. It will actually be built just slightly south to accommodate the tunnel for the Ted Jones Trail. They’re leaving big spaces all around it, but not quite big enough for other buildings.

    Still, Alex I think you missed a great opportunity for commentary here. The center of the campus has been steadily moving north this past half century. The reason the library’s entrance opens to the south is because that’s where the student center used to be. All the academic buildings used to be between the library and Natural Bridge. Then they were built behind it. Then a new student center was built even further north, tucked into a hillside. The campus build-out plan kept changing.

    The rec center is going to finish what the current student center started. It will fill in the contours of a small valley in the middle of the north campus. The center of the campus with its poorly maintained ponds will be walled in by buildings rather than open on one side to a big parking lot. It means for the first time since it was built, students are going to be using the front door to the student center as much as the back and tunnel entrances. Add the mythic library expansion on the western hill and there’s suddenly a lot of life at the confluence of three regional trails.

    • Benjamin Aronov

      Interesting, didn’t know about the library’s entrance, wonder if in the future they might reorient it toward the new ‘heart’ of campus.

      The physical lay of the land, as a golf course with lots of elevation changes, make the campus less than ideal for an easily walkable built environment. In my opinion I think UMSL would be much smarter focusing its attention to the North Metrolink stop as the ‘front door’ to campus. The surface lots occupy some of the only flat land available on the entire campus! These should be built upon ASAP. People complain about parking but even with this years boom in cars the northern most garage is almost always 90% empty. Any new buildings on campus, those built in the various valleys absolutely must have garages as their foundations.

      As UMSL transitions more and more away from being a commuter school, parking needs to be less a priority. Using the flat land to develop a walkable, relationship-fostering community should be priority number 1.

  • Marshall Howell

    As a recent UMSL grad the only sad thing for me is that I missed the chance to use it. I still voted for it though, and maybe I will still check it out as an alum. This is a student based facility and is not being used for the sports teams and is not a new “stadium” so I think it will serve its purpose well.

  • Framer

    The new building looks great! It should help with recruiting, too. It’s a competitive environment out there, and you’ve got to keep your facilities up to date.

  • matimal

    isn’t this the opposite of making college more affordable? And in a suburban low density location?

  • Garrett

    Now if only Wash U, with all it’s money would actually a rec center this nice. While the athletic complex is being renovated, it’s a much scaled back version of the original one with an indoor track and Olympic sized pool proposed before the 2008 crash. You’d think with a 12 million dollar gift they’d build something really impressive, but it’s just going to tack on more to the existing embarrassing facilities. I understand the need to keep Francis Gym, but the rest of the building is poorly planned and hardly worth saving

  • Daniel L

    There was a campus wide referendum put to the students to approve this project. The student council used university money to campaign for a ‘yes’ vote, while no similar funding was available for a ‘no’ campaign. Being a pretty apathetic campus, no one seemed to notice or care. The extra fees also don’t kick in for a few years, so most of the outgoing students said, “hey, it doesn’t effect me; why not?!”. As an UMSL grad student at the time, I voted against this project on the grounds that it’s a duplication of services that are already provided through the Mark Twain Building, and because I believe that state funded universities should be putting the affordable fees for a quality education ahead of entertainment for some subset of students. It’s probably marginally good for the region and the economy, but I think it’s a bad move in terms of the already topsy-turvy priorities of institutions of higher education in this country.

    • Dogtown Dude

      It’s a wonderful project. i’m happy for UMSL and their current students, staff, alumni and future students. they must be excited for the progress being made and I’m sure these intelligent people realize that progress doesn’t come for free and St Louis is becoming more progressive. (thank goodness) However, It’s amazing, I don’t know if its because some people are just hard to please or if they just get a kick out of having something negative but there is always someone that’s got to complain about something no matter what. I honestly feel like standing at the gates of heaven they’ll stand there complaining. “So, this is it!?!?”, “The streets of gold are too narrow here.”, “why isn’t this place bigger?” And whoever that soul is that’s complaining the most about anything and everything, I’m sure will be from the St. Louis area. So, sad. Anyways, Happy Holiday’s!

      • T-Leb

        Very dismissive of a comment made by someone who actually went to UMSL. A lot of Mizzou folks had similar experience with rec center and student center fees for construction. I am one of them. I paid fees and barely used the new rec center my senior year, never used new commons before I graduated. But I paid the fees.

        • STLEnginerd

          Agree gotta respect the opinion even if you don’t agree. I would be torn if I had to vote myself when I was a poor college student. The mark twain building is in pretty nice shape IMHO but fifty year old buildings often have underlying issues. Also the size of the fee seems pretty large relative to current tuition rates so that would have given me pause. At the same time UMSL is trying to shake the image as a commuter school and increase and diversify the student population and modern facilities are seen as a prerequisite.

      • UMSL

        I’ve gone to UMSL off and on for several years. I’ve been to Mark Twain a total of one time. And will never go back. Its outdated and inconveniently placed. UMSL is trying to build a community rather than be a group of strangers. You need interaction outside the classroom to really build relationships among students. The MSC is really the only place someone can go and hang out right now, I believe the Rec center will help with that enormously.

        I already pay for Mark Twain but never use it. Instead I pay another monthly fee to work out at gym with modern equipment. If UMSL had a modern gym, I would much rather be able to work out on campus between classes rather than making an additional trip each day.

        Maybe the way that the measure was pushed through wasn’t right but like you said the current student body is extremely apathetic. I think the Rec Center will cause students to care more about UMSL and take responsibility for decisions like this.

    • Alex Ihnen

      In the abstract, I can agree. The race to build the best fitness facility, or best dorms, etc. can seem a distraction from an educational institution’s core mission. That said, I worked at UMSL about eight years ago and the Mark Twain Building is an awful, horrible, no good place to work out and exercise. So perhaps a recreation center shouldn’t be the top priority, but when it’s been 42 years since a new facility was built, it’s just time.

    • Tim

      I hardly think a building that will be nearly five decades old can be considered a “duplication of services”. This project will help attract students and help keep alumni connected to the university