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Queens opens $30 million recreation center

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Queens University of Charlotte cut the ribbon Monday on its latest entry into more competitive collegiate waters: a brand-new $30 million center for student recreation and athletics.

In the Levine Center for Wellness and Recreation – Charlotte philanthropists Leon and Sandra Levine contributed $8 million – the university has created a three-story, 145,000-square-foot facility.

It has everything from a 2,500-seat basketball arena that triples as volleyball, intramural and general recreational space (with movable walls!), to state-of-the-art electronic water-bottle filler-uppers in the halls (just press a button!).

Revving up such facilities is a definite trend among U.S. colleges, says NIRSA (formerly named the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association), which estimates that more than $1.7 billion has been earmarked for construction, renovation or expansion of campus rec facilities between 2013 and 2018.

And that’s clearly what’s on the minds of both Queens administrators and the Levines.

“For a student who is interested in coming to Queens, this has to seal the deal for them,” said Sandra Levine right after the opening ceremony.

Levine and her husband were presented with a framed piece of arena flooring and their own “Q” card, giving them access to Queens facilities. (Retail value: about $39,000. All students receive one, and that’s roughly what a year of tuition, room and board costs at Queens).

“These facilities – it’s just a school-changing experience,” she said.

“It’s going to be a total turnaround,” said Queens President Pamela Davies. “It’s going to help get students, and better students. It’s something most colleges have.”

Queens Athletic Director Jeannie King led “Whose house? OUR HOUSE!” cheers at the ribbon-cutting, and said later she’s wanted this “since the very first day I walked onto campus” as women’s basketball coach two decades ago. Under the old arrangement, students had to wait for teams to finish before using gym space. “Now we can coexist.”

Queens has about 1,300 traditional undergraduate students, and about 330 of them are athletes on one of the school’s 19 teams. Those students will have access to weight training and sports medicine rooms and locker rooms designed for them.

But all students will have access to the aquatic center (which will host Queens’ successful young swim team, as well as Olympic swimmers in continuing partnership with Team Elite in Charlotte). All will be able to use the 5,000-square-foot fitness center with machines and weights, the two-lane indoor track with special surfacing, studios for fitness and dance classes, two expandable classrooms (for the new kinesiology department) and the student lounge, with an Einstein Bros. Bagels on the way.

A 2010 Purdue University study showed better grades among students who worked out at least once a week.

Davies sees the center as “the heartbeat of the campus community, from a social perspective.”

Brian Ralph, vice president for enrollment management at Queens, estimates the use of space at 50-50 for student athletes and the general university population, when you factor in the pool and attendance at basketball and volleyball games. (Cheerleader Katie Epperly, part of the ceremony Monday, noted how much “more collegiate” the place feels than the circa-1950s 500-seat Ovens Athletic Center, torn down two years ago.)

For most students, Monday was the first time they’d been able to see the new facility.

“Beautiful!” chorused a group of young women in Queens T-shirts nestled into the lounge, sipping coffee.

Several of the men’s soccer team T/members jostled each other preparing to go into the pool, which has a newfangled “evacuator” to minimize that chlorine smell.

A worker in the team merchandise “Roar Store” offered tiny stuffed lions, bears and leopards in tinier Queens T’s. None particularly resembled mascot Rex – he was wandering the halls along with everyone else – or even “Little Rex,” the bronze lion statue holding court in front of the building.

Queens senior basketball player Shonice Pettaway will play her final season on the Levine Center’s court and was shocked to find herself – mid-shot, with her characteristic follow-through motion – among the color artwork decorating the center’s halls.

“That’s you!” squealed her friends. She let them rave and rush on, quietly snapped a photo of the art with her phone, then caught up as they headed on to see the rest.

Schwab: 704-358-5250
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