October 21, 2021

SUNY Cortland’s Student Life Center getting heavy use

Jacob Smith, a SUNY Cortland freshman and Cortland High School graduate, runs Wednesday on the track on the upper portion of the Student Life Center.

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Jacob Smith, a SUNY Cortland freshman and Cortland High School graduate, runs Wednesday on the track on the upper portion of the Student Life Center.

Thousands of SUNY Cortland students find their way to the campus’ Student Life Center every day, making themselves sweat while using the facility’s gym and filling their stomachs at its Bistro.

“It has gone really well with the life center,” Louise Mahar, assistant director of recreational sports for fitness at SUNY Cortland, said Wednesday about the success of the center since it opened in February 2015. “I’m amazed how much it is being used. Kids love it.”

The $56 million 148,000-square-foot facility took two years to construct with a few delays in between, including a natural gas explosion that impacted the center’s spinning area, golf simulator and a mind-body room.

The center features two weightlifting areas, a cardio area, a suspended one-fifth-mile track complete with inclines and declines, as well as three gyms. The facility’s other highlights include climbing and boulder walls, plus a support center for outdoor pursuits where students can rent tents, bicycles, canoes and kayaks.

Students interviewed at the facility Wednesday praised what it has to offer.

“There is a lot of variety,” said Nick Hamil, a senior coaching major at the school.

He said he will usually go to the center about twice a week, mostly to take advantage of its large gym that he says is one of the nicest he has ever seen.

Justin Sovocool, a junior human services major at the school, echoed this sentiment, calling the gym “awesome.”
“It is always busy, but there are enough machines for everyone.”

Jenny Linn, a junior speech therapy major, and Lindsay Carter, a junior psychology major, both go for the suspended track in the complex.

“It is nice to actually be able to run around a track, rather than have to just use a treadmill,” Carter said.

While the gym has proven to be a strong selling point for the facility, there are other aspects of the center that need more publicity, according to Mahar.

There is a game room with pool tables, air hockey tables, dart boards and video games, which rarely gets used, she said. The same goes for the tennis table room in the center.

Some residence halls have pool tables and tennis tables, and a lot of kids bring video games with them, so she said she thinks students may just be getting their fix for the games somewhere else.

Mahar would like to see table tennis matches being offered in the future, providing students a chance to meet up and make connections with others who play.

Julian Wright, director of Recreational Sports for SUNY Cortland, who spearheaded the life center project, said the facility still has some growing to do, but sees progress with its programs every day.

And while those rooms may not see as much action as Mahar would like, the rest of the facility tends to draw a large crowd, from the rock climbing wall to the Bistro. Hundreds of students fill its eatery area every day. Some, like Linn, have even been able to find employment there.

The bike renting program provided by Outdoor Pursuits in the center has proven to be popular among students, too, as the 100 bikes on tap are used just about every day through the school year, said Jason Harcum, assistant director of recreational sports for Outdoor Pursuits.

“The center is doing what the purpose of the building was,” Wright said. “It is improving the quality of life for students.”

The college had left the door open for possibly selling memberships to community members, but Wright said Wednesday in a phone interview that he does not think that will happen right now.

Wright said the college does not want to compete with businesses in downtown Cortland and he does not want to overcrowd the facility. About 2,500 students pass through every day, along with faculty and staff, he said.

However, alumni are allowed to use the building.

Overall, Wright said the facility has met expectations and been a great asset to the college.

Mahar reiterated his comments, claiming the Student Life Center gives SUNY Cortland an advantage over other schools.

“When deciding which school to go to, kids may want to come to Cortland more because of the building,” she said.