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Sherrill Center

Promoting Healthy Living

by Debbie Griffith

Angular rooflines framed against the backdrop of Mount Pisgah provided a scenic setting
for the April 18 dedication ceremony of the Wilma M. Sherrill Center, the largest and
newest building at UNC Asheville—a building that signals the university's commitment to promoting healthy living.

The 133,500-square-foot facility will house classrooms, labs and offices for the academic Department of Health and Wellness, now one of the fastest growing majors at the university, as well as the offices and programmatic activities of the new N.C. Center for Health & Wellness, a statewide hub for the coordination and promotion of healthy-living initiatives for all North Carolinians.
In addition, the Sherrill Center will feature a new convocation facility called Kimmel Arena, which
will be the largest venue at the university, capable of seating up to 3,800 people for conferences, summer institutes, commencements, convocations, lectures, community events, health fairs, corporate events, dinners and other gatherings. It also will be the home court for men's and women's Bulldog basketball.

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Crowds of university faculty, staff and students joined community members, legislators and leaders in the health care profession in celebrating the dedication of the $41 million building, named for one of the leaders of the effort to build the facility—Wilma Sherrill.

More than once during the dedication event, Sherrill was called a bulldog for her determination and toughness in championing the building and its programs that will promote wellness, prevention of disease and the education of the next generation of health promotion professionals.
A long-time supporter of UNC Asheville since she and her husband Jerry moved to the area more than 40 years ago, Sherrill ramped up her advocacy for the university when she was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1995.

"We wanted to focus on educating students in prevention and preparing them for jobs."

When state funding was appropriated in 2003, Sherrill began working with Dr. Keith Ray, who currently is chairman of the academic Department of Health and Wellness, to envision a new program that would emphasize prevention, not just treatment of health problems. It was a unique approach.

Ray remembers, "Our vision was that we would become a leading catalyst statewide in the prevention of chronic disease and other conditions through the promotion of healthy living."
Ray said early activities of the center would focus on promoting healthy living among children, and enhancing workplace wellness and healthy aging.

"While our academic program will prepare graduates to be effective in health and wellness promotion, the center's initiatives will provide unequaled opportunities for students to learn through hands-on involvement in making a positive difference across North Carolina," Ray said.
In 2004, UNC Asheville was awarded $35 million to build the center. The university later pledged to raise additional private funds to equip a multi-purpose convocation center and arena.
Under the leadership of Chancellor Anne Ponder and with help from individuals, corporations, and foundations like Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, more than $6 million was added to the state appropriation, and construction of the facility began in 2008 on a site next to Justice Center.

The building itself, with large expanses of reflective glass, and faced with tons of native North Carolina stone donated by Junius and Pat Grimes, is imposing and yet it seems to fit nicely into the campus' mountain landscape. Its architects, Bowers Ellis & Watson of Asheville, and HOK, an international firm that specializes in public assembly architecture, used flowing ridgelines around the campus as design accents throughout the building.

The Sherrill Center, in keeping with its wellness mission, is designed to be a very walkable building to encourage physical activity 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 was designed to collect runoff that could be used to irrigate nearby athletic fields, and its light-colored reflective roof will reduce the heat island effect. Low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint and carpet has been used throughout the structure.

In addition to offices, classrooms and research labs, there is a large dance studio, fitness training and physical activity areas, a meditation room, a demonstration and teaching kitchen, and a wellness café. Even the concourse surrounding Kimmel Arena serves as a walking track.

More than bricks and mortar

Before there was a Sherrill Center, there was a dream that through outreach and education North Carolinians could be inspired to live healthier lives through prevention of disease.

What emerged from that spark of a dream, is what is now known as the N.C. Center for Health & Wellness, housed within the building called the Sherrill Center. The principal architect of the dream was Keith Ray, chairman of the Health and Wellness academic department.

As he explained, "We wanted to identify the gaps in prevention and wellness efforts across the state and work toward helping stakeholder groups find ways to close those gaps."

Ray used childhood obesity to provide an example of a gap already being addressed by the center. "Our research regarding lawmakers' opinions suggests that advocacy groups need support in delivering effective messages to elected officials about their role in preventing or reducing childhood obesity… and the center is using these findings in collaboration with stakeholder groups, to create useful tools and messages to support their work with elected officials."

In addition to working with stakeholder groups across the state to advocate for healthy living policies or to identify the need for additional programs to support health and prevention initiatives, the new wellness program also would have a strong educational component.
As Sherrill explained, "We wanted to focus on educating students in prevention and preparing them for jobs. The shortage of nurses and doctors in our area, the rising costs of health care, people not living healthy lives, those things make it really important for us to support healthy living initiatives and educate the next generation of health professionals who are focused on healthy living and not just treating disease."

The new N.C. Center for Health & Wellness

Now, Ray has handed off the day-to-day operations of the fledgling N.C. Center for Health & Wellness to a new director,
Dr. David Gardner. Gardner has built a staff of four highly regarded experts in wellness and in research evaluation to begin implementing programs to achieve the lofty goals set for it eight years ago.

"By helping create an existing statewide health and
wellness infrastructure, our center will contribute to the prevention of disease and injury by identifying successful programs and practices already in place and facilitating their replication throughout the state."

Gardner explained, "By helping create an existing statewide health and wellness infrastructure, our center will contribute to the prevention of disease and injury by identifying successful programs and practices already in place and facilitating their replication throughout the state.
"We'll also develop tools for evaluating these programs, as well as providing information to local and state policy-makers so they can make informed decisions on health and wellness policies," Gardner said.

And, of course, at the forefront of the center's work always will be a strong link to the faculty and students at UNC Asheville who will undertake applied research in collaboration with community-based organizations. Those are the kinds of hands-on learning opportunities that UNC Asheville is known for providing to its students.

Kimmel Arena: more than basketball

Janet Cone, senior administrator for university enterprises and athletic director, could hardly contain her excitement as she led a group of VIPs through a tour of the new Kimmel Arena on dedication day. The floor of the arena is freshly painted with "UNC ASHEVILLE BULLDOGS," a huge scoreboard hangs above the court and end-zone videoboards are ready to flash player stats. Royal blue chair-back seats flank the court.

Cone, however, was excited not just about basketball prospects, but how the arena will bring the community onto the UNC Asheville campus. "This is a facility that like most other buildings at UNC Asheville is really multi-purpose. In additional to basketball games, we'll be able to host large conferences, summer institutes, concerts, convocations, national speakers, health fairs, you name it. This is going to be a huge benefit not just to our campus but to the whole Asheville community. And the economic benefits are obvious."

Cone also explained that the new facility boasts a state-of-the-art fitness room for use by students, faculty, staff and members of the N.C. Center for Creative Retirement. "The new fitness facilities in the Sherrill Center, combined with those that will continue to be used in Justice Center, will help our university be a model for improving campus health and wellness."
"And of course, I can't wait to see our men's and women's teams playing their first games here in the fall." Cone said. The opening game against UNC Chapel Hill in November is the hottest ticket in town, she said.

Looking toward the future

Now that the building is finished and set to be fully operational by the fall, there's still much to be accomplished and many expectations to be met. As Chancellor Anne Ponder said during the dedication event: "This building represents the very best in community engagement and cooperation. It is a model of the integration of public and private support for education and the greater community.

"Within the walls of this building, students will have an opportunity to learn about personal health and wellness, to learn about serving their communities as health and wellness professionals, to learn about prevention, to prepare to become physicians, pharmacists, sport and exercise scientists, and public health professionals. They'll learn to research best practices for healthy living and to share this knowledge with local, state, and national audiences. North Carolinians will have a healthier tomorrow thanks to the support of the North Carolina General Assembly and an extraordinary group of private partners."

As she looks back on the efforts put forth by so many people to make the Sherrill Center a reality, Wilma Sherrill said, "I'll never be able to express how thankful and how proud I am that UNC Asheville has this new facility and all the programs that are inside. I really think the work that we do here will put UNC Asheville and Western North Carolina on the map."

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