Almost three years after its official opening, the $52.6 million Wellness Center is making a significant difference in the extracurricular lives of Worcester State students, both varsity athletes who train and compete in a state-of-the-art facility, and the average fitness enthusiast just looking to exercise and have fun.
In fact, an estimated 1,200 students per month take advantage of the DeFeudis Fitness Center, with more using open gym hours, participating in intramurals or group exercise lessons, and walking or running on the elevated track. Other areas of the building, which is open every day for a total of 100 hours per week during the academic year, are attractive learning and socializing spaces.
But the building has also proven to be an asset to the University in other ways, especially in giving thousands of people a reason to come to campus, either as enthusiastic fans cheering at high school athletic tournaments, or as participants in myriad business meetings, conferences, career fairs, and community festivals. In addition, local residents use the walking track, and alumni are able to join the fitness center.
The key is focusing first on the needs of students, but also recognizing the benefits of sharing and showing off the beautiful facility to external audiences—visitors who might not have another reason to be on campus and who are bound to leave with a good impression of the university.
“This building meets different needs for different groups of people,” says Deputy Director of Athletics John Meany. “We’re always trying to find the balance between giving our students the most opportunity to take advantage of this great facility, and making it available in other ways to reach out to the community and generate revenue.”
To execute this balancing act, Meany works closely with Conference and Events Director Michael McKenna, who fields queries from potential external clients. Meany takes the first pass at the building’s occupancy schedule, blocking off whatever practice and competition time is necessary for the 20 Lancer varsity athletic teams, plus a robust intramural program and open gym time for students and clubs.
Certain external clients, such as the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), bring hundreds of players and busloads of fans to campus, in the same way that Coughlin Field has hosted the many MIAA field hockey, soccer, and football tournament games over the years. Over Spring Break this March, the facility hosted 12 high school basketball tournament games over four days, as well as state championships in both boys and girls volleyball. Hundreds of cheerleaders and gymnasts and their fans also rocked the building over multiple weekend days this spring.
“These high school events are definitely looked at from the lens of enrollment management—not necessarily recruitment of the athletes, but the athletes’ siblings and parents, and the fans from their school, who look at this beautiful facility and may decide to consider Worcester State based on this impression,” says Meany.
Other non-Worcester State athletic teams use the facility on a regular basis, such as local volleyball and indoor soccer clubs, and several basketball and volleyball summer camps. The Worcester 78s, a minor league basketball team, recently completed its first season with the Wellness Center’s competition gym as home court. Those steady customers bring in about 40 percent of the building’s annual revenue, according to Meany.
While it may seem logical that the summer months are less busy, five basketball and two volleyball camps keep the facility humming. The least busy months are actually in the fall, when varsity teams are practicing and competing outside.
“We’ve done no real marketing for the facility,” McKenna says, adding that obvious assets often sell the venue on its own. “We’re centrally located, so participants have an easy drive from Boston, Hartford, and Springfield, with plenty of parking at night and on the weekends. We have a good run of repeat customers, so they must like us. Often as they are leaving, they’ll say, ‘We want to book again for next year.’”
“We’re a unique facility within Worcester,” says Meany. “This is an appropriate-sized venue for many events. The space has proven to be easily adaptable to many different types of uses, including conferences and dinner events.”
Non-athletic events range from an Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges conference with 500 people for dinner to the Braveheart Sports Management conference this past January, and a South East Asian festival with more than 1,000 participants in 2018.
“We consider what’s appropriate, profitable, and how it will affect the wear and tear of the building,” McKenna says. The best fit also minimizes the impact on student programming and takes advantage of down time in the building.
Revenue generated by the Wellness Center through external rentals helps defer operating costs, as well as maintain and improve the facility. The goal is for it to be a self-sufficient cost center, bringing in money not tied to student tuition or state funds. In addition, every external event can also be a fundraising opportunity for a Lancer athletic team. The rental cost includes a site manager fee, and often a Worcester State coach will act as the site manager with that money going back to the team. Team members can also make money for their team by staffing the concession stand.
And even as external groups continue to discover the facility, few can deny the positive impact it has had on campus life for both athletes and other students.
“The Wellness Center is proving to be a space where many of our students choose to connect during the week, which makes it a vibrant space on campus,” says Meany.
Originally published in the Spring 2019 Worcester State Magazine .