St. Ambrose University officials beamed Wednesday as they unveiled the new $21.5 million Wellness and Recreation Center on the Davenport campus.

Mike Poster, vice president for finance, spoke on the significance of the facility during a media tour.

The center officially opens this weekend, just in time for Homecoming. A dedication ceremony is planned for 5:30 p.m. Friday and includes Bishop Thomas Zinkula of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport.

Pride was evident among the St. Ambrose officials, students, alumni and others who gathered for the tour. As Poster said, it is the single largest capital project in university history, dating back to when the college was founded in 1882.

In those early days, students interested in recreation enjoyed a 200-square-foot structure called, engagingly, Play Hall, Poster said.

Since 1990, St. Ambrose has built 14 new buildings and renovated more than a dozen others, Poster said. The new center is to be used by students, faculty and staff members. 

It is an exercise and activity space; home to Wellness and Recreation Department activities and intramural athletics; lab space for health and wellness academic programs such as kinesiology; and practice space for student athletes.

Alex Bala, 22, a senior from Batavia, Illinois, especially appreciates the added space. For the recreational basketball player and official, game nights would stretch to as late as 11 p.m.

"Those nights will now end earlier," he said.

The 80,000-square-foot fieldhouse includes five basketball courts and is circled by a 200-meter, six-lane competition track.

Omar Raya, 21, a senior from East Moline, especially likes the two-story weight room and workout spaces.

"I'm in here five days a week," he said, adding that the weightlifting is a good release from his studies.

Kinesiology major Abby Hammer, 21, of Oswego, Illinois, competes in track and cross country for St. Ambrose and favors the new elliptical machines, which face outward to windows that overlook either the new fieldhouse or the campus.

Before the center opened, she said students would compete to exercise on five treadmills and ellipticals, all of which faced a white brick wall.

"All those windows, that's a big thing," she said. "It gives you a better feeling about the workout."

The new lab area is a favorite place for Emily Studt, Elgin, Illinois, and Emma Peeler, both 20 and juniors in the kinesiology and exercise programs. Before, said Peeler, of Ames, Iowa, their classes were in Hayes Hall and they had to pick up their own chairs and place them in a circle every time such space was needed.

The classroom today includes both rows of the chairs and special kinesiology equipment, which measures movement and the force involved in that movement.

"This is a much more accommodating space," Studt said.

Sandra Cassady, a vice president at St. Ambrose, calls the building "an exciting environment" and great for popular kinesiology programs, such as exercise science and human performance and fitness.

Vice President Jamie Loftus said the building shows off the St. Ambrose commitment to "mind, body and soul."