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Becky Harrison is the new director of the Wellness Center at Antioch College. She will help guide the remainder of the renovation of Curl Gym with a plan to open the new facility “July-ish.” (Photo by Lauren Heaton)

Becky Harrison is the new director of the Wellness Center at Antioch College. She will help guide the remainder of the renovation of Curl Gym with a plan to open the new facility “July-ish.” (Photo by Lauren Heaton)

Leading the college to wellness

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For the past six months there’s been a gaping hole at the back of Antioch College Curl Gym, where the pool used to be. But the renovation of the 85-year old building is closing in on a completion date sometime in July. And newly hired Wellness Center director Becky Harrison is keen to get the gym in its new digs operational. What the wellness center will become after that is open to everyone’s imagination, Harrison said in an interview earlier this month.

“Everything is possible — that’s why I love this project,” she said. “As I get into the personality of the facility and its users, it will grow — I’m open for it to change as the college grows.”

On a recent tour of the facility, still deep in rubble and dust, Harrison whirled about, chatting and joking with the construction crew and wending her way through the building like it was home already. Her excitement about creating what she sees as a place of wellness for the whole person was contagious.

“These types of facilities are so much more than just a gym … they’re almost like mini community centers,” Harrison said. “The possibilities are fascinatingly endless … when I get goose bumps, it’s a good day!”

She believes that everyone is on a personal journey to wellness of mind, body and spirit. The path includes taking care of the physical body, but also the social and emotional aspects of the individual.

“This center can talk to all those areas, including possibly massage and physical therapists and nurse consultants,” she said.

In overall terms, plans for the 44,000-square-foot Wellness Center have not changed significantly since the idea of a shared community-college fitness center was introduced more than a year ago. The official 25-yard pool (with ultraviolet disinfection system) and 10-person, handicapped accessible therapy pool with a patio extension are coming along. The basketball and racquetball courts are under way, as is “West Gym,” where the fitness and weight room with a track around the perimeter will be located. The central locker rooms will be completely refurbished, as will the restrooms and the warming kitchen in South Gym, a multipurpose performance space that can be turned into a theater or banquet hall. Two additional group fitness spaces are currently under construction, including a smaller room on the first floor for yoga or pilates, and a 3,500-square-foot room upstairs for larger activities, such as kickboxing, zumba or indoor soccer. An adjacent room on the second floor could be used for yoga, meditation or possibly as a child watch center. And still a third-floor loft that looks over the second floor could be used as a lounge and storage area.

But Harrison is keeping open as many options as possible to ensure that the Wellness Center develops organically as an extension of both the college and the Yellow Springs community members who will be using it.

“Nothing is set in stone yet — we’re examining the budget and asking what is this facility capable of? What activities will be happening in each room? … It’s going to come from our members, students, faculty, and the community.”

Harrison comes to the college with 15 years of experience as the assistant director of the recreation and wellness center at Vanderbilt University, her alma mater. After studying recreation and education at Ohio State University, she received a master’s in health promotion at Vanderbilt and went right to work helping to promote student wellness, and group fitness and running a personal training program at the school with 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students in Nashville, Tenn.

Though Antioch is leagues smaller than where she came from, Harrison was attracted to the opportunity to start something new and help design it from the ground up, she said.

“What really excites me about this job and the new facility is I get the chance to build and grow a program and make it sustainable,” she said.

And her return to Ohio mirrors somewhat the college’s own rebirth. Harrison grew up in Zanesville, left the state after college, and is now returning to her Midwest roots, newly married in October and currently living in Beavercreek.

“The welcome I’ve gotten at the college and in the community has been wonderful,” she said.

According to Dorothy Roosevelt, who assumed responsibility for the initial phase of design and construction for the Wellness Center, the $8 million project is still on budget and expected to achieve LEED certification. Roosevelt expects to step back once construction is completed to let Harrison take the lead.

“Dorothy has done a fantastic job — I want to say thank you to her,” Harrison said.

Harrison hopes to be able to hire either one full-time or two part-time staff members, as well as a host of part-time class instructors, a pool manager and guards, and welcome desk and janitorial personnel. A membership structure for the Wellness Center has yet to be decided, but Harrison said the goal is to get membership fees within range of area YMCAs. Community input is appreciated, and Harrison invites people to seek her out by emailing, calling or visiting her in her temporary office in South Hall. She also invites community members to check the college website in May for publicity about pricing and virtual tours of the new space. Public tours and open houses will be scheduled once the facility receives its occupancy permit, and Harrison moves to her office at the front of the new building. She is excited for a strong beginning, but wants to ensure its longevity.

“I believe in the concept of health at every size and health at every age, and we’re doing our best to make this facility long-term stable and fiscally responsible.”


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