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To their health

Union to build new wellness center

Health, counseling offices to relocate

Saturday, October 20, 2012
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Union College alumni William M. Wicker, Class of '71, motions while speaking at a ground breaking of the new Wicker Wellness Center, pictured behind him, next to the Alumni Gymnasium Saturday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Union College alumni William M. Wicker, Class of '71, motions while speaking at a ground breaking of the new Wicker Wellness Center, pictured behind him, next to the Alumni Gymnasium Saturday.

— Union College will build a $2.3 million wellness center to meet a growing need for space and allow more students to receive medical care and counseling.

Plans for the Wicker Wellness Center were announced Saturday as students, parents and alumni milled about campus for Homecoming Weekend. Construction will begin in March on the two-story, 6,600-square-foot facility and wrap up by fall.

“This space that we’re standing on is going to be transformed from a piece of grass to one of the most vital areas on the Union campus,” said college President Stephen Ainlay to a few dozen people gathered next to the Alumni Gymnasium.

The college’s Health Services and Counseling centers will relocate from their current cramped quarters inside of Silliman Hall, a 112-year-old building that also houses the Office of the Registrar and can no longer support the growing needs of the two departments.

The new facility in some ways reflects the changing nature of higher education. Ainlay’s generation relied on trusted faculty members to turn to when they needed help, he recalled.

“Certainly, our wellness center was a very small operation,” he said. “The nature of wellness and attending to the needs of our students is a whole lot more complicated, a whole lot more sophisticated and a whole lot more involved now. And frankly, what you see with Silliman Hall was that we’d outgrown that facility and were desperately in need of a new space.”

The lead gift for the wellness center came from 1971 alumnus William M. Wicker and his wife, Pamela. Wicker is a longtime benefactor to the college and vice chairman of investment banking and natural resources at Morgan Stanley.

He first became interested in giving to the project in May, when Ainlay asked to meet with him in New York City.

The college president was talking about funding professorships and other worthy initiatives when he told Wicker about the new wellness center.

“I said, ‘You’re not still in Silliman Hall, are you?’ and he said, “Yeah, we are,’ ” recalled Wicker.

At 2,500 square feet, it wasn’t unusual for the health center to turn people away in January when the flu really picked up.

“This is an area where, quite frankly, we were deficient,” said Wicker. “And we’re going to fix that.”

Health Services will occupy the first floor of the new building, which will include six exam rooms, offices, a conference room, reception and waiting area, and a staff lounge. Nearly 4,000 students pass through the department each year for treatment of illness and injury, gynecological and women’s care, vision tests and physical exams.

The center will also be funded in part by 1975 alumna Nancy Eppler-Wolff and her husband, John H. Wolff.

The Eppler-Wolff Center for Psychological Services will go on the second floor, and include a private entry, waiting rooms, six counseling rooms, a relaxation area and offices. The department handled more than 2,000 appointments last year, and provides confidential individual counseling, couples’ counseling and roommate conflict mediation.

The new facility comes on top of several other big projects at Union College. Lippman Hall and Lamont House are currently undergoing renovations on campus, and the 7,000-square-foot Henle Dance Pavilion is scheduled for completion in the spring.

College officials hope that an expanded wellness center, which will be built in a similar architectural fashion as the neighboring Alumni Gym, will be a symbol for the college’s fitness and wellness mission.

“This project is about the whole person,” said Ainlay. “It’s about a college that has hit its stride. It’s about momentum and continuing to provide the absolute best services that we could possibly provide to the men and women who come to study here. This is a gift that’s going to make an enormous difference to this campus.”

 
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