Presque Isle, ME – Northern Maine Community College (NMCC) opened its $6.4-million Rodney Smith Wellness Center and Akeley Student Center in late July. The addition serves more than just its faculty and 1,100-member student body. It meets the needs of residents from a cluster of northern Maine communities, including Presque Isle, Caribou and New Sweden, reinforcing its role as a community leader.
“This facility sets a new standard,” says NMCC President Tim Crowley. “It gives us a new front entrance and enhances the appearance of the entire campus, but more importantly, it begins to address the challenges of health and wellness on campus and in the community. It’s about creating a healthier place to learn and work, and this facility is designed to do that, and it does this beautifully.”
With exposed Douglas fir beams, extensive curtainwall, and distinctive, curved roof profile, the Rodney Smith Wellness Center and Akeley Student Center draws the attention of all passersby.
“One of Northern Maine Community College’s goals was to create a signature building with a wow factor. This design does that,” says architect Steve Pedersen, AIA, of WBRC Architects • Engineers. “It’s a modern look that sets itself apart.”
The new main entrance opens into a light-filled lobby that houses a reception area. Here, wayfinding information is available for campus visitors as well as registration and membership services for wellness center users.
“It’s a multi-functional space where one can get directions, learn about courses, or sign up for a class,” says Pedersen, who designed and managed the project.
WBRC led the concept design team to establish 16 guiding principles for the Rodney Smith Wellness Center and Akeley Student Center in 2012. “These principles guided the team from start to finish,” Crowley says. “All of the things we identified two years ago are embedded in this project, and it has more than met our expectations. It’s pretty gratifying.”
Among its goals was to encourage informal interaction. The design meets this objective in several ways: lounge chairs and reading tables along the pedestrian path invite students and community members to gather and relax, acoustic panels soften noise levels for a more comfortable, enjoyable experience, and the nearbycollege storeoffers hot and cold food items for quick pick-me-ups.
“It’s a place where people can mingle and support one another,” Crowley says.
The college store also offers T-shirts and other brand items. Nearby, a security office is a central hub for monitoring campus activities and a health center offers nursing and assessment services.
The light-filled wellness center offers a variety of LifeFitness cardio and strength-building equipment, each designed for Web accessibility.
“Each piece of equipment not only connects to power, but also to cable television and the school’s data system,” says WBRC’s Lura Wade, P.E., electrical engineer for the project.
“Students can access their accounts and see their history with a certain piece of equipment. All the information typically available on cardio equipment, such as time and speed, will be recorded and stored, and available for reference,” Wade says.
Other smart technology includes daylight responsive lighting. The system adjusts to various outdoor conditions throughout the day, Wade says, ensuring consistent lighting, as well as improved overall operational costs.
A key feature of the wellness center is its expansive curtainwall, Crowley says.
“This facility takes tremendous advantage of natural light,” he says. “We have very long winters here, and it’s a concern. The abundance of light will be a very positive thing for our students, staff and members of the community. We think that’s an outstanding feature.”
The majority of the funding for the Rodney Smith Wellness Center and Akeley Student Center came from private sources.
The contractor was J.P. Martin and Sons Construction Corporation of Caribou.
WBRC Architects • Engineers provided architecture and engineering services.
Nine information stations, or iStations, are incorporated along an interior pedestrian path, and are ready to connect to the college’s data systems, allowing for a more interactive experience, Wade says.
The iStations, marked by orange canopies, are being programmed to educate users about the former Presque Isle Air Force Base. Once located on the NMCC site, the base played a key role in World War Two, Crowley explains, and the artifacts presented digitally at each station will help tell its story. He expects these to be ready by November.
“It’s about creating a greater sense of identity and well-being for people who live and work in this community,” says Crowley. As an extension of that, the college is reaching out to employers in the area, offering partnerships for wellness programs.
“We’ve designed it to be more accessible. We have more parking in the front. We want the community here. It’s a big part of what we’re trying to do,” he says.
“All aspects of the Rodney Smith Wellness Center and Akeley Student Center further NMCC’s mission to build a healthier and more competitive workforce,” says Sue Bernard, director of development and college relations.
“Some of our programs are very physically demanding and it is our goal to be able to provide credentialing of physical readiness for particular programs to help graduates get jobs and succeed in the workforce,” she says.
Crowley agrees. “You not only need the technical knowledge to be a good electrician,” he cites as an example. “You need to understand what impact that work has on your body, what injuries tend to occur in that field of work, and how to prepare and strengthen your body in ways to prevent such injuries from occurring.”
This facility will help prepare NMCC students for the work world, he says. “We see this as a resource that will improve quality, fellowship and community, all the things NMCC strives for daily.”