Opening in September 1999, the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center on the Science and Technology Campus is a site for research into sports performance and a significant venue for recreation and comptetive sports in Prince William County and beyond.
On the northern-most side of the Science and Technology Campus is the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center. One of the first buildings constructed on the campus, it is a recreation and learning center for both the university and local communities. Thousands from the Prince William area and beyond visit the facility for recreational and competitive sporting activities. Mason faculty and students in its Athletic Training and Sports Medicine programs learn and conduct research in its sports performance laboratory called SMART (Sports Medicine Assessment Research and Testing) Lab.
As Mason's Science and Technology Campus (then known as Prince William Campus) began to take shape alongside the newly completed Prince William County Bypass near Manassas, construction was already underway on a state-of-the-art recreational facility designed for both the university and local citizens. During the late 1980s Prince William County Park Authority officials expressed a desire for a large recreation center with a 50-meter competition-sized swim facility located in the western part of the county. At that time the county managed several neighborhood recreation centers with small outdoor or indoor pools and gyms, some with outdoor basketball or tennis courts. The completion of a larger multi-sport indoor facility with a 40-meter pool in the eastern part of the county in 1991 only highlighted the need for an equal or even better facility for the other half of the county.
During this same period, Prince William County and Manassas City officials were engaged in a dialog with George Mason to bring a university presence to the county. Mason Executive Vice President H. Randall Edwards served as its representative it during these initial stages. Edwards, who earned a PhD in Civil Engineering from Virginia Tech in 1970, had spent most of his career serving at Virginia institutions of higher education. Dr. Edwards was Mason’s point man regarding partnerships, particularly those with local governments where Mason had built or planned to build campuses.
Edwards, who had taken part in the initial discussions with county and city representatives regarding the establishment of a campus in the county, took the lead in those dealing with the creation of a unique recreation center administered by George Mason and open to members of the community. Collaborating closely with officials from Prince William County and the City of Manassas, he helped plan the project and iron out cost sharing for its three partners. Together, the partners raised more than $18 million for the construction of the facility by 1998.
Construction of the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center began in 1998 on thirteen acres on the northern side of the property. The Center opened in September 1999 and began serving the community, immediately. The addition of a large state-of- the-art aquatic center with a true Olympic-size pool within the county instantly provided a venue for swimming and diving practice and competitions for county high schools. Today the Center is the site for large weekend swim meets hosted by area clubs which draw participants from far beyond the county and the commonwealth.
The 110,000-square-foot facility has maintained a 50-meter competition pool, leisure pool, weight training room, a fitness assessment lab, aerobics and cardiovascular fitness areas, basketball, running track, racquetball, and day care center. The fitness assessment lab, now known as the SMART Laboratory, is a 2,000 square-foot facility where Mason faculty, staff, and students conduct evidence-based research and assessment dealing with injury prevention, cardiovascular fitness, and body composition. The SMART Lab is open to Mason students, faculty, staff, and members of the public for personal fitness and physical assessment.
The Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center stands as yet another example of George Mason University working with its neighbors to produce something beneficial to both the university and the local communities it serves.