Users of Fairfield University’s RecPlex have experienced disruptions in their typical gym experiences due to a sudden and heavy influx of gym participants.
These disruptions have created less available space and equipment, as well as more frustration among students. As the spring semester comes into full swing, students have not halted their complaints regarding the situation.
“I have been going to the gym for one and a half years now, and I have never seen it this bad,” reported Jacob Engren ‘25. “The gym has seemed cramped everyday since we got back from winter break.”
The Leslie C. Quick, Jr. Recreation Complex, or the “RecPlex,” stands as Fairfield University’s one and only recreation center available to non-athlete students and community members. Dedicated to inclusive and well-rounded exercise, students have the option of three floors of fitness, ranging from cardio machines, to private exercise rooms and an open weight room. The complex also includes its own gymnasium and swimming pool.
Despite its assortment of opportunities, it seems a space issue has prevailed.
Eli Olken-Dann, the Director of Recreation and Wellness at Fairfield University, attributes a reason as simple as the time of year to this staggering RecPlex attendance.
“Post-Covid, many people are returning to their pre-Covid fitness routines, and this time of year, many fitness centers are seeing an increase in activity level,” he said. “It is not uncommon to have larger classes and increased visitation during the first month of the semester.”
Brian Kabel, Assistant Director of Facilities and Events, bears a similar perception of the campus issue.
“The start of the Spring semester is typically the busiest time of year for collegiate fitness centers, and the RecPlex is no exception,” he explained. “Patrons are following through on New Year’s resolutions, students are getting prepared for Spring Break and with less daylight and colder temperatures, coming inside for a workout is a more attractive option.”
Could New Year’s resolutions be the culprit of this unsuitable phenomenon? Students and faculty agree that these masses stem from ambitious students with gym-centered goals. However, these resolutions may not be the only culprit worthy of blame.
Sophomore Alexander White is a university student employed at the RecPlex. The way he sees it, this overpopulation is a “twofold” problem.
“As it’s known, a typical New Year’s Resolution is working out, which is a good thing. However, when you have ‘the largest class in Fairfield’s history,’ all potentially thinking similar things, the RecPlex falls into an overpopulation issue,” he said. “Along with other places on campus, we are having issues accommodating everyone comfortably.”
With the university’s recent housing and admissions quandary, which highlighted the over-acceptance of students with minimal, available housing, this explanation is very agreeable.
Although the RecPlex was renovated in 2016, it was not renovated to fit over 5,000 students. The renovations, according to Olken-Dann, were constructed around an average class size of 1,000 students, which is evidently not the case in 2023. In fact, total enrollment increased almost 800 students from the years 2016 to 2021, from an undergraduate and graduate count of 4,559 to 5,311, according to Fairfield University’s 2022 Fact Book.
Regardless of which area of the gym they utilize, students have faced dysfunctioned and cramped gym experiences that do not seem to be improving.
Sophomore student Natalie O’Brien shares that frustration. “I usually go [to the gym] between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. following whichever morning classes I have, and it is very busy [during that period].”
“I like to use the treadmill, and on the upper floor of the RecPlex the treadmills are almost always full when I go,” she continued. “I come with a backup workout, just in case, but usually end up lucky enough to get upstairs right as someone is getting off a treadmill.”
While O’Brien has not resorted to changing her gym time or schedule, other students have, although their results do not show much improvement.
Sophomore Megan Farrell reported her countless efforts to make her gym experience this semester just a little bit better.
“I have tried going at different times of the day, changing up my ‘split,’ or gym schedule, and even performing other exercises to substitute for some of my planned exercises,” Farrell explained.
“After doing all of this,” she continued, “I have found that switching up the time of day, what I am working out and what exercises I am doing really has no impact on how efficient my workout is now that the RecPlex is so busy with students.”
Farrell further conveyed her frustration in setting aside one to two hours each day just to fit a comprehensive workout into her schedule.
There is an unpredictability present in going to the gym right now; students cannot be sure at which time they will be able to truly enjoy their workout, and at which time they will wish they skipped it entirely.
Olken-Dann claimed the RecPlex peak times are Monday through Thursday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. when the day is ending and students typically finish their classes. Students, however, have expressed that “peak time” is “all the time.”
“Whenever I go to the gym, it always [appears that] that time is a busy time. In reality, every time is a busy time,” said Engren.
Whether it is 8 a.m. or 8 p.m., the gym has shown itself to be packed.
RecPlex staff has come to notice the negative effects this increased participation has brought to its students. White stated that he mainly works on the weekends, which has frequently been the gym’s slowest time. However, this semester is proving to be much different than previous ones.
“During one of my shifts, all of the basketballs were out, almost every treadmill was taken, most of the Lower Level rooms were taken and the weight room had tons of people in it,” White said. He further claimed this occurrence had never happened in the past, “especially on a Saturday.”
One of White’s coworkers, Jenna Larochelle ‘25, described a similar situation regarding limited and sometimes a lack of desired equipment, especially basketballs.
“At some of our busiest times, around 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., we run out of basketballs,” she said. “For this reason, I do think the field house is affected [by this issue] because people are scrambling to try and get the basketballs they want and open court space.”
She continued to say that with the increased amount of intramurals that take place in the RecPlex gymnasium, court availability has decreased as well.
RecPlex administration encourages students to utilize their “Live Count” system, located on the university app and on the RecPlex’s website. The system was created during the Covid-19 pandemic to help limit the number of students in each area of the gym; it displays a capacity percentage for each specific section, such as the treadmills and the weight room.
Currently, it is used by staff to maintain order throughout the gym and for students to check the capacity of an area before arrival. It is an efficient way for students to plan their visits around large crowds.
Students have declared a need for a RecPlex expansion in order to accommodate its eager participants. Farrell, for instance, pointed out the inadequate equipment-to-student ratio.
“I hear so many people complain about the fact that we have one bench press and lack many other machines,” she said. “Just looking at the space we have for the weight room can show anyone that we simply need more space.”
Kabel stated that RecPlex administration is “continuously evaluating the layout of the floor equipment to best optimize for users.” Before winter break, they rearranged the weight room equipment to create a better flow, and they are now in the process of purchasing equipment most popular to users, particularly treadmills and free weights, such as squat racks and incline bench presses.
Some students anticipate this “New Year” crowd to die down within the next month. O’Brien predicted this decline “partially because of the New Year’s resolution rush, and partially because people’s schedules change [with] school work and other activities.”
Yet, others are not so confident. With the growing population of the school, a busy gym might be the new norm.
Nonetheless, students and RecPlex staff are happy to see such a strong turnout towards physical activity. Farrell relays that a packed gym promotes a “well-balanced college experience.”
“I think that it is a good problem for the school to have,” she said.
The RecPlex staff and administration has been nothing but positive and supportive towards students during this conflicting time. Kabel ensures the efforts of their team to “identify and execute practical improvements” to establish a “positive fitness experience.”
Olken-Dann advises students to enjoy the RecPlex during non-peak times in order to take full advantage of their gym opportunities. Moreover, he expressed the gratitude of himself and the RecPlex for having such devoted users:
“We are pleased that the student body, and campus community, find the RecPlex as a place they regularly fit into their mind, body and health routines.”