Saint Leo University broke ground Thursday, February 6, on a Wellness Center located on the west end of campus by Lake Jovita. The 59,000-square-foot facility will create an environment for holistic health and well-being that integrates student recreation, fitness, health services, counseling services, and campus ministry.

Focusing on the body, mind, and spirit Saint Leo's new Wellness Center will provide space for group exercise, spinning and yoga classes, and a large community fitness center. In addition, there will be two indoor basketball courts, a healthy smoothie bar, and a recreational pool with a lakeside infinity edge, as well as a relaxation terrace and garden. There also will be several multipurpose rooms, which could be used as space for meditation, specialty classes, and gaming.

As the university has grown, there has been increased student demand on the current spaces. Saint Leo officials also wanted to provide a facility that will provide for students' physical and emotional well-being. Many of the services now offered in DeChantal Hall will move to the new facility.

Construction tentatively will begin in April, and university officials hope to open the Wellness Center in Fall 2021.

"This day is finally here; praise God," said D. Dewey Mitchell, chair of the Saint Leo University Board of Trustees. "This is a wonderful amenity for the university and the community."

Creative Contractors of Clearwater, FL, is serving as the construction firm for the project while S3 Design Inc. of Braintree, MA, is handling the architectural design; and JLL of Tampa will provide project management services.

Fundraising is taking place for the Wellness Center, and the university is in discussion with several health care providers that potentially could serve the community by delivering medical services on-site.

Mitchell, chair of the Saint Leo University Board of Trustees, welcomed everyone to the Wellness Center groundbreaking while Dr. Melanie Storms, senior vice president, served as the emcee for Thursday's ceremony. Sister Roberta Bailey, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Florida, provided those in attendance with a historical perspective on the property, and University President Jeffrey D. Senese made remarks about the benefits of the Wellness Center. Prior to the groundbreaking, Abbot Isaac Camacho, OSB, a Saint Leo alumnus, blessed the site.

"You stand on sacred ground," Bailey told the crowd gathered for the groundbreaking. She reminded everyone about the founding of the university by the Benedictine sisters and monks. They sunk "their roots deep into Florida's oldest incorporated town," she noted.

Saving a tree

While the land that Saint Leo occupies once was home to orange groves, a different type of tree was found growing on the property as clearing began. The Saint Leo Abbey Church is known as "the church that orange juice built," as the Benedictine monks traded oranges and grapefruits to Saint Meinrad Abbey in Indiana for sandstone, which was used to construct the church, consecrated in 1948. As work began on the site for the Wellness Center, an original olive tree was discovered while clearing the overgrowth on the property.

The olive tree will be transplanted during construction for safekeeping, and then replanted into the meditative gardens of the Wellness Center, tying the history of Saint Leo to its future.

Looking ahead

Emphasizing the impact the Wellness Center will make, University President Senese said, "We are creating an iconic building for Pasco County, Tampa Bay and Florida. It is our vision that this building will take your breath away."