From the very beginning, the rec center had a double-edged commitment to physical and mental health as well as fitness, putting it at a national forefront: The Herbert Wellness Center was among the first, if not the first, focused on educating about “wellness,” a word first appearing in 1653, but not commonly used until the 1990s.
The idea of a wellness center originated with Norm Parsons, hired in 1972 by UM Vice President of Student AffairsWilliam R. Butler. At the time, UM lacked residential colleges and even cafeterias. The university had a good intramural program, but nothing indoors, and Parsons “had a great vision about the future, wanting to construct new facilities,” Butler told the Miami Hurricane student newspaper. Lane Recreation Center opened in 1975 but was never expanded because of lack of funding, and so the campus had but one gymnasium with a volleyball court, basketball court and two small exercise rooms, one for men, the other women. Parsons led UM in initiating the first intercollegiate sports program for women in the U.S. and coached the women’s golf team from 1973-1978, then the men’s golf team from 1980-1988. He says attending a national wellness conference sparked his dream of one day replacing Lane Recreation Center with a completely different concept—when people come to a building to work out, a healthful lifestyle can be promoted while they are there.
A major step toward that vision of health and wellness was taken in 1992, when three student leaders helped devise a student body referendum that if approved would raise money for the center. Student Government President Irwin Raij, Graduate Student Association President Manny Tejeda, and Student Bar Association President Ravi Brammer proposed raising student fees each semester by $85 to pay for the center’s construction and future operation. All the money raised would stay within the building; students were guaranteed the lowest rate via the fees, while employees and alumni would purchase memberships. The referendum passed in spring 1992 with 78 percent of the votes cast.
UM began drawing architectural plans for the center with Russell Partnership Inc., a local architecture and construction consulting group. Three men, all UM graduates, were key to the planning:David Body, Daniel Tinney and Joe Sealy. Construction began in 1994 after demolition of the Lane Recreation Center. Former U.S. Sen. George Smathers, D-Fla., said he would donate $10 million to the center to have it named The George A. Smathers Wellness Center. But when Smathers found he could not commit to the full donation, he returned naming rights to the university, and the center became the Student Wellness Center.
By 1996, construction was complete. The building opened to the University of Miami community on January 16 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The three-floor, state-of-the-art facility encompassed 114,000 square feet of indoor recreation and 35,000 square feet of outdoor space, including sports courts and courtyards. An indoor atrium lounge, now called the Butler Atrium after the beloved vice president of student affairs, provided access to a weight-fitness room, gymnasium, racquetball and squash courts, multipurpose rooms, locker rooms, swimming pool and juice bar. Part of the second level was called the Wellness Suite, which consisted of a conference room and two classrooms for healthful cooking and other classes. The other side of the second floor featured an aerobics room and a gymnasium with an elevated jogging track. The only classes offered at the time in the aerobics room included jazzercise and aerobics.
The center was open automatically to full-time undergraduate students and law school students by way of their tuition and fees, to graduate students by way of those fees (but with an “opt out” choice), and to faculty, staff and alumni who purchased membership. It was among the first, if not the first, college or university recreation center to include wellness in its name and base its mission on health and wellness as well as fitness. Almost from the start, the center was successful at attracting its targets: students and employees. Within the first year of the center’s operation, about 3,000 faculty, staff and alumni had become members—a level that has remained fairly constant. SHAPE UP (Sport Health & Physical Exercise-University Personnel) helped encourage employees to join; an employee using the center at least 3.5 days a week during a four-month membership would receive a 50% rebate on membership cost. The university was happy to offer the rebate because healthier employees bring down health-care costs. Then-UM President Edward T. “Tad” Foote II said “no new facility could be better received than the Student Wellness Center has already been in the few days since its opening.” On February 8, 1996, more than 200 people from the UM community attended a dedication ceremony honoring the new facility.
On Jan. 18, 2006, the Student Wellness Center celebrated its 10th anniversary in the Butler Atrium. The event was graced by former University of Miami presidents Henry King Stanford and Tad Foote, then-President Donna Shalala, then-Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick, the former student government president who led the student referendum, Irwin Raij, Dr. William Butler and many more. At the event, the city of Coral Gables and the university proclaimed January 18 “Wellness Center Day.”
UM alumni Patti (B.B.A. 1957) and Allan (B.B.A. 1955, M.B.A. 1958) Herbert were celebrating their anniversary and wanted to do something special. Because they had met and fallen in love at UM, Patti decided to give a lasting legacy to Allan. On November 5, 2004, the bridge leading to the front entrance of the Student Wellness Center was named the Love Bridge to commemorate the Herberts’ love for each other and the university. They donated $50,000 to name the bridge and endow CHAMP (Canes Help Assessment Motivational Program), making the fitness assessment and educational program free for students. Bricks were sold on the Love Bridge for $500; by fall 2014, 310 bricks had been bought and engraved to honor or remember loved ones. The bricks communicate short, sweet and sometimes poignant messages, such as “The Best Thing I Found at UM was U.” The Love Bridge has become a campus landmark symbolizing love and its endurance.
Within another four years, the Herberts donated $8 million that named the center and ushered in a new era. On October 23, 2008, the Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center was unveiled and the couple’s generosity celebrated. The gift helped UM lay plans for a major expansion of the center that was completed by January 2011.
Construction added another 20,000 square feet in a two-floor wing that boasted a new Pilates studio, six reformers and more cardio equipment. Two multipurpose rooms were added on the second floor, including a studio with 33 new cycle machines and a surround-sound system. The Herbert Wellness Center also made a giant leap in personal training programs and exercise classes, including cardio kickboxing, aquatics, sculpting, boot camp and many more. All personal trainers are certified. The Herbert Wellness Center offers a wide-ranging list of programs, classes and services
Executive Director Scott R. Levin joined the Herbert Wellness Center in August 2014 ready to strengthen its beacon of health and wellness. An award-winning professional with 30 years’ experience, Levin directed recreational services at a major public research university with more than 30,000 students and is well-versed in the programs and services the Herbert Wellness Center cares so much about—running intramural and club sports, fitness testing and assessment, outdoor recreation, instructional classes and aquatics programming.
The Herbert Wellness Center received a Facility of Merit Award from Athletic Business in 1997 and the Annual National Health Information Award in 2007 for the BeSmokeFree program. Among the more recent recognitions was TopCounselingSchools.org’s naming the Herbert Wellness Center No. 11 in the nation in 2014 among “30 Universities Leading the Way with Wellness Centers for Students”. Also in 2014, the American Heart Association named the University of Miami a “Fit-Friendly Worksite” for the fourth straight year for enhancing faculty and staff health and well being through the Herbert Wellness Center. The same year, Club Industry Magazine awarded a “Best of the Best” award for the children’s programs at the Herbert Wellness Center.