Since SUNY Cortland’s Student Life Center opened to students, faculty and staff in February, an average of 2,500 people a day have run the elevated track, worked out on the fitness equipment, and participated in activities ranging from basketball and ultimate Frisbee to yoga and meditation.
That’s more than a third of SUNY Cortland’s student population.
“It’s becoming the focal point of the campus,” College President Erik J. Bitterbaum said. “I can only imagine what this building will do for us in the future.”
Bitterbaum made his remarks during a ceremonial grand opening of the 150,000-square-foot building on March 13 that included the symbolic cutting of a ribbon strung between a pair of exercise bicycles.
Joining him were speakers that included New York State Sen. James L. Seward, R-Oneonta, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, and former City of Cortland Mayor Martin “Marty” Mack M ’76, a senior staffer for the New York Attorney General’s Office. All three were instrumental in funding the $56 million project.
Also speaking were SUNY Cortland Director of Recreational Sports Julian Wright, whose vision two decades ago led to the construction of the building; Student Government Association Treasurer Nicole LaFreniere, who talked about the positive impact the center has on student life, and Gil C. Quiniones, president and CEO of the New York Power Authority.
“The commitment demonstrated by SUNY Cortland to make the Student Life Center, along with the entire campus, a model for energy efficiency is nothing short of extraordinary,” said Quiniones. “Governor Cuomo started the BuildSmart NY program, which requires all state-owned and managed buildings to reduce how much power they use 20 percent by 2020. Cortland is already more than halfway toward that goal.”
The center — arguably the most comprehensive recreational facility in the entire State University of New York system — was a long time coming. Two College presidents, Judson H. Taylor, emeritus, and Bitterbaum, wholeheartedly endorsed the project and, in 2007, funding was secured through the efforts of politicians that included Sen. Seward, Assemblywoman Lifton and Mack.
“There’s no question this will greatly enhance the student experience at SUNY Cortland. It’s a great recruiting tool for the campus. In fact, as soon as I leave here, I’m going to the admissions office myself!” Seward joked.
The Student Life Center replaced and expanded recreational sites that were scattered among many different buildings around campus, often sharing spaces with students in classes or on varsity teams. Additionally, the building greatly increases the number and types of activities where members of the campus community can relax and socialize.
Student life centers are rising on campuses across the U.S., but they are still not common in the northeast and seldom in the SUNY system, making SUNY Cortland’s new complex truly exceptional.
“It’s open, it’s operating and it’s fabulous,” Lifton said.
To view a video of the Student Life Center's opening ceremony, go here.
The new building makes a bold statement both in terms of size and appearance. The walking/running track, in particular, commands attention. Visitors can circle a one-fifth mile elevated route above the onlooker’s line of vision atop a mezzanine reached by a giant staircase.
The facility’s open floor plan allows visitors to see from one activity area to the next and to enjoy the exterior views of mountains, woodlands and surrounding campus through the massive windows, which make use of natural light to conserve energy.
The Student Life Center is organized in two wings with a common lobby and entrances on both sides. The Bistro Off Broadway, a 343-seat food court; Recreational Sports’ new Outdoor Pursuits Center; and a retail snack bar are located in the north wing. Student recreation space is located in the south wing along with administrative offices. A concourse runs north-south and connects directly to the two-level fitness areas, a flexible meeting space, swimming pool, gymnasiums and multi-purpose spaces.
The building was designed and constructed to seek the industry’s highest measurement of environmental sustainability for new facilities, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification through the U.S. Green Building Council.
The project meets the green target in many different design categories, and includes a rooftop that houses rain gardens and several hundred of the College’s 3,600 solar panels. The total solar installation was the first of its kind in the SUNY system and earned SUNY Cortland both the Innovation and Excellence in Energy Management Award and the People’s Choice Award from BuildSmart NY.
Because the center lies close to the community’s ground water supply, some of the LEED certification measures involved the creation of a “bio swale” area and underground storm water storage to reduce the building’s impact on flooding.
The building was designed so that individuals who have limited mobility or access issues will be able to reach every recreational area, including getting into and out of the pool.
Visitors can sample many recreational features inside the Student Life Center, including:
Access to all the facilities is free for current and retired faculty, staff and ASC staff members. However, all participants must have completed a physical activity readiness questionnaire form before using the fitness facilities in the new Student Life Center. This can be done once a year and is available online at the Recreation Sports website. Select “Fitness Facilities” and then “Faculty/Staff Registration.” Or fill it out at the new Recreational Sports Office in Student Life Center, Room 1201.