Big Plans Require Big Thinking

In case you didn’t know, we’ve got BIG things going on here at the Division of Recreational Sports. As in, $236 million big. Upcoming Master Plan projects include Near West, the new “SERF,” the new “Nat,” and Near East.

With all of this upcoming excitement, it would be a mistake if we didn’t think about the people who will be most affected by these changes: our members. This led us to create the Think Big Member Panel in the spring of 2016. Comprised of up to 60 participants, this panel focuses on providing insights and ideas to improve our programs, services, and facilities.

Each month, our Member Services staff meets with a group of student members and a group of non-student members to discuss a wide range of topics. Most recently, conversations have focused on the Master Plan and the designs for the new “SERF,” however, Think Big members have also given feedback on communication plans, which lockers should be included in the new facility, and what Rec Sports means to them, just to name a few.

When asked about the reason to create Think Big, Sadat Khan, Associate Director of Member Services and Operations and one of the facilitators of the panel, stated, “We wanted to engage with groups of members who interact with the facility and have different stakes in the design. We have avid Group Fitness participants, people who wanted the perfect track, a professional badminton player, members of several sport clubs, intramural champions, Masters swimmers, and people who simply care about the new “SERF” being inclusive. With input from all of these diverse opinions, we think we have really designed a facility that any user will be proud of and is worthy of the UW-Madison crest.”

We recently sat down with several members of the panel to get their take on being part of the future of Rec Sports, what they think about designs for the new “SERF,” and why they like being part of the Think Big Member Panel.

When asked about why he joined Think Big, Tyler, a member of our student panel and President of the Gymnastics Club, said he enjoys being “the link between what’s happening and his friends.” “It’s cool to be on the inside…to see what’s happening before the general public knows.”

Other members of the group agreed that getting the “inside scoop” is a major benefit of being on the panel, and they appreciate the chance to give feedback. Shoko, an HR professional on campus and frequent Zumba participant, remembered the first Think Big meeting she attended. The group was asked what kind of phrases, perceptions, and thoughts they associate with Rec Sports. “To be able to give that kind of feedback is meaningful,” she said.

In addition to general perceptions about the Rec Sports brand, the Think Big panel has had a lot to say in the design of the new “SERF.” The start of the design process for the new “SERF” coincided with the launch of the Think Big Panel. In the past 13 months, members of Think Big have seen the project grow from an Excel document listing the square footage of each space to conceptual 2-D designs to full-on 3D renderings.

16-0503 Schematic Design Kickoff - V2
An example of an early design the Think Big Member Panel has been able to see and provide feedback on

Panelists have also had several opportunities to give direct feedback to the architects on the project.  Panel member Jeff, an IT professional and Ironman who frequents the Nat for noon-hour basketball, mentioned that the design process has been an example of “reaching out and trying to get feedback, so later on you don’t get questions.” As many of you are probably aware, navigating and utilizing the current SERF can cause a lot of confusion. We’re confident that getting feedback from members throughout the entire design process will prevent a similar situation from happening again in the new facility.

After seeing the design plans and renderings for the new “SERF,” it’s easy to get excited about what the future holds for Rec Sports. Specifically, for the members of Think Big, several of them mentioned they are most excited about the natural light and open layout. They mentioned it will be a “more positive place to work out,” and participants won’t feel like they’re totally crowded. Member Amy, a Recruitment Specialist and Workplace Wellness Coordinator who is a certified professional fitness trainer and a frequent user of the PTC, looks forward to having “space to move,” and more ease navigating the facility. She mentioned the addition of day use lockers, so “if you don’t want to go down to the locker room, you don’t have to.” (So true!)

A rendering of the Level 1 Fitness space

Beyond the actual facility, it’s important to remember just how big the impact of the new “SERF” will be. That certainly wasn’t lost on our Think Big members, either. “People will enjoy the atmosphere more…it’s something that will be able to be showcased,” said Jeff. He mentioned how he thinks the facility will have a higher social impact because people will like their time there. So much so, they might even want to hang out after working out! Shoko agreed, saying it can be a recruitment tool for potential students, faculty, and staff.

Due to the open and welcoming layout, Amy noted that, “people might try different things.” They will be able to see more options for exercising, highlighting the functional training space in particular, and it might encourage them to step out of their box and try something new. We sure hope so!

Throughout the entire conversation with our Think Big members, one topic that rang true for everyone was the group of people who make up Think Big. “This group is so much fun to be around…I really enjoy coming,” member Amy said. Shoko agreed, saying the people on the panel are her favorite part about being on Think Big. “You can’t manufacture this group. We come from different jobs, age groups…it’s really serendipitous.”

For Tyler, being on Think Big has given him reassurance. “It’s made me confident that this process is being done the right way.”

If you’re interested in shaping the future of Rec Sports as a member of Think Big, let us know!


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