Health and Wellness Center on track for late summer groundbreaking

Fitness facility just one component of new AMC building's ambitious mission
This artist

This artist's rendering shows what the Health and Wellness Center will look like once it opens in the spring of 2012 on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

To passersby, it will be another gleaming addition to the ever-growing cluster of buildings on the Anschutz Medical Campus. To the faculty, staff and students who populate the campus, it will be a convenient place to work off some stress and calories – then maybe replenish with light fare.

But to the man directing operations at the soon-to-be-built University of Colorado Medical School Health and Wellness center, there's much more at the heart of the project.

"It's a physical manifestation of the university's concern with the well-being of students, staff and faculty," said Jim Ellis, director of operations for the center. "This should help improve the overall health status of the campus. And by virtue of that, you'll see a decrease in things like direct health care costs and an increase in productivity."

The long-awaited center has been in development for two years and sat high on wish lists for years before that. Design work is nearing completion, and in late August or early September, groundbreaking at the corner of East Montview Boulevard and North Quentin Street will bring the center closer than ever before. Construction of the $26 million, 95,000-square-foot facility is expected to take 18 months, with opening scheduled for spring 2012. Funding comes from the Anschutz Foundation and CU.

Ellis said it's understandable that campus community members might be most interested in the center's state-of-the-art fitness center, which will account for about a third of the space and will boast high-end fitness equipment and machines, a track and aquatics facilities (though no lap pool). The center also brings a new dining option to campus thanks to a healthy bistro serving meals all day long.

But what really makes the center special, he said, is that it ties together research and clinical programming along with the exercise environment.

"(Users) are really going to be getting the best of all worlds in terms of facilities, programming and experts in the areas of health and wellness promotion," Ellis said. "We're hoping all the participants, whether from the community or students or staff and faculty, will be participating in research or clinical programs."

Clinical programs at the center will focus on current health-care issues driven by lifestyle, especially obesity. The facility will feature a comprehensive weight loss clinic offering services ranging from behavior changes to bariatric – or surgical – weight loss. Diabetes and cardiovascular health – key issues related to obesity – also will be targeted with prevention programs.

"The great thing about this facility is that it has the capacity to expand the scope of research programs based on the needs of the population as a whole," Ellis said. "Over the long haul, I think you'll see the expansion of research and clinical programs."

Facility usage fees have yet to be determined. Ellis said the center is committed to making sure the facility is accessible to all campus groups.

"The center is going to be very reasonably priced particularly for students, employees and faculty," he said. "The facility will need to be self-sustaining, but it's not like a commercial facility that needs a return on investment that goes into an investor's pocket. So even for the community, it's going to be affordable for them to access the center."

The look of the four-level structure will blend with established architecture on the Anschutz Medical Campus. Once visitors are able to step inside, though, Ellis said they'll be experiencing an environment unique on the campus.

"The goal is that everyone feels that they're entering a warm, welcoming environment with a lot of activity going on around them, whether it's our demonstration kitchen off the main lobby or views of activity overhead on the second-floor fitness component, or the two-story lobby space," he said. "It will have a major ‘wow' factor.

"The idea is, just by being at the center, your stress levels will start to decrease before you even engage in any activities."

Ellis said that status updates on construction progress will be ongoing up to opening. In September, campus groups will have access to computer-generated animation that offers a fly-through tour of the future building's interior.
The center will open with a staff of about 100, Ellis said, with most coming from within CU. Eventually, the creation of new jobs is expected.

"With the anticipated growth of research, clinical programming and fitness and wellness activity, we expect staff growth of 25 percent to 30 percent or more ... over the course of the center's first three to five years," Ellis said.