Wilma M. Sherrill speaks at the Sherrill Center dedication ceremony April 18, 2011. Photo courtesy of UNC Asheville.

From UNC Asheville, shared April 18:

UNC Asheville celebrated the dedication of the Wilma M. Sherrill Center on Monday, which will house academic and outreach programs focused on disease prevention and healthy living.

The $41 million project was funded through a $35 million state appropriation in 2004 and an additional $6 million in private gifts and grants. It is the largest construction project ever undertaken at UNC Asheville.

In addition to housing the academic programs of the Department of Health and Wellness, the building will be the home of the N.C. Center for Health & Wellness, a statewide hub for the promotion of healthy living through the prevention of disease as well as a multi-purpose convocation facility, Kimmel Arena, with seating for up to 3,800.  The arena will be the home court for UNC Asheville’s men’s and women’s basketball teams.

“The Wilma M. Sherrill Center brings to life a vision shared by legislators, the business community, academia and the public – that promoting wellness and preventing chronic disease before it starts is a critical need for North Carolina,” said UNC Asheville Chancellor Anne Ponder. “Long before this economic downturn, our state representatives allocated funding for this important statewide wellness initiative; many generous businesses and individuals also stepped forward to contribute. Now, even in this environment of scarce funding, this center will be a place where faculty, students, health organizations and businesses all over the state join forces in sharing research, providing solid data about healthy living programs that work, and building a statewide wellness infrastructure to help save lives and health care dollars all across North Carolina.”

Construction of the 133,500-square-foot facility began in 2009. Project architects are Bowers Ellis & Watson of Asheville, and HOK, an international firm that specializes in public assembly architecture. Shelco Inc. of Winston-Salem is the general contractor. The facility will be fully occupied by fall 2011.

The Sherrill Center is a multipurpose building, much like most other buildings on campus. It is designed to provide a venue for a wide range of activities, from classes, research and workouts to concerts, health fairs and basketball games.  Although it is the largest facility at UNC Asheville, it was designed intentionally as a very walkable building, which encourages fitness among those who use it. Green features include significant use of daylighting, occupancy sensors that turn off lights in unoccupied rooms, no-touch lavatory faucets and hot water re-circulation that will reduce water usage, an underground rainwater cistern, a light-colored reflective roof to reduce the heat island effect, and low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint and carpet.

Earlier this year, the UNC Asheville Board of Trustees named the facility in honor of Wilma M. Sherrill, recognizing her decades-long advocacy for the health and wellbeing of children and families.

As the home of the academic Department of Health and Wellness, one of the university’s fastest growing majors, the Sherrill Center contains classrooms and faculty offices, dedicated space for undergraduate research, a high-tech teaching/demonstration kitchen, and research and learning labs. The department delivers a wellness and prevention-oriented curriculum, and its faculty collaborate with students, departments across UNC Asheville, and community organizations to conduct innovative research on nutrition, stress management, physical activity, healthy aging and prevention of falls.

Emily Pineda, a junior in the Department of Health and Wellness, said, “I want to make a positive difference, and I cannot wait to continue working and learning in the Sherrill Center. We’ll be able to use a ‘bod pod’ in our health assessments to measure the percentage of body fat, and I know people will respond better to that than skin pulls with calipers. And in the new lab rooms, there are double-sided windows for observation of activities so we can evaluate them.” As part of her studies, Pineda works to foster more physical activity among kindergarteners and middle school students in the Asheville City Schools.

Adjacent to the academic department are the offices of the N.C. Center for Health & Wellness, a state hub for the coordination and promotion of healthy-living initiatives that will help prevent chronic disease among all North Carolinians. The center collaborates with health and wellness providers and non-profit groups, and fosters opportunities for applied research collaborations among UNC Asheville faculty, student researchers and community-based organizations, creating opportunities for the replication of best practices in prevention across the state. The current focus areas are preventing childhood obesity, enhancing workplace wellness, and facilitating healthy aging.

The N.C. Center for Health & Wellness and the academic Department of Health and Wellness plan to provide “incubator” space and lend their expertise to emerging community wellness promotion organizations.  Students and faculty in the Department of Health and Wellness are key academic and research resources for the N.C. Center for Health & Wellness’ community outreach efforts and assistance to community-based health organizations.

Wilma Sherrill, for whom the building is named, said, “I am really excited to know that the work and study achieved in this center will be the path to a healthy lifestyle for citizens not only in Western North Carolina, but across this state and nation. Good health is the single most important thing we can have. A quality education is next. Both of these are being accomplished right here.”

“The students who leave here with a health and wellness promotion degree will have many doors opened for them. Whether it’s to go to medical school or be school teacher or be an adviser for workplace wellness, they will be prepared,” she said.

The Kimmel Arena, also part of the Sherrill Center, will be the largest venue at UNC Asheville for large gatherings, capable of seating up to 3,800 people for commencements, convocations, lectures, community events, health fairs, exhibits, concerts and intercollegiate men’s and women’s basketball games. Prior to the construction of Kimmel Arena, all large university events were held in Lipinsky Auditorium, where seating is limited to 670 people.

Kimmel Arena features 2,800 chair-back seats, and in addition, bleacher seating in lower end zones and on-the-floor seating for non-athletic events, portable staging for varied event setups, two concession stands, multiple lighting and sound setups for events, eight men’s and women’s locker rooms and a sports medicine room.

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Kathleen O'Nan is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press.

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