Jacksonville State University’s governing board approved a $39 million student recreation center Monday.

The 100,000-square-foot facility has an estimated January 2019 completion date and will be paid for with a new $190 per semester student fee. JSU officials say the facility is needed to help increase enrollment and retain students.

The JSU board of trustees approved the project during its regular meeting.

Construction of the facility is set to start in August beside Kennamer Hall. The two-story facility will include a leisure pool, a 40-foot high climbing wall, basketball and racquetball courts, a weight room and other amenities. Approximately 200 students will be hired part-time each year to work at the facility.

“This is an exciting project for the university and particularly for the students,” said John Beehler, JSU president.

To fund the project, JSU plans to get a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provides low interest rates to borrowers in rural communities. The funding deal will be a public-private partnership between JSU, the USDA and the JSU Foundation, the private donation wing of the university.

The university will institute the $190 per semester student fee at the start of 2019 to repay the loan.

Ronnie Smith, board chairman, said the $190 fee was derived from surveys and focus groups last year on what services students wanted from the proposed center and what they’d be willing to pay.

“We’re all concerned about the fee … hopefully it’ll be something we’ll have the flexibility to move up and down on,” Smith said.

Smith said the facility is needed to help JSU grow enrollment.

“We’ve got to do this to attract students; I think we need to do this,” Smith said.

JSU has made enrollment improvement a focus, starting with the hire of Beehler in 2015. The university also hired Cherise Peters, JSU vice president of enrollment management, last year.

About 65 percent of JSU’s budget comes from tuition and fees.

Beehler said a modern recreation center is needed to attract and retain students.

“What we’ve found is this is something that’s absolutely necessary to compete in the market we’re in,” Beehler said. “Getting students in the door is only half the battle … you need to keep them here.”

Jesslan Sharp, JSU student government association president, said the center will be a place that students deserve and need.

“We already have great people and faculty and education … but I really think this rec center is going to be the wow factor that gets students here,” Sharp said. “I think students are excited about it.”

Also during the meeting, the board approved the framework for a five-year strategic plan for the university. The plan, which JSU has been working on since last year, will help guide university policy. Key strategic initiatives of the plan include increasing enrollment, growing university resources and improving campus infrastructure.

With the framework approved, the university’s next step is to create ways to put the key initiatives into action, university officials said.

Staff Writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.