Connecticut College Magazine · Fall 2009

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Physicist Mohamed Diagne ´97 follows in the footsteps of retiring Professor Arlan Mantz. Photo by Ron Cowie

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New $8 Million Fitness Center Debuts

New $8 Million Fitness Center Debuts
Inside the new fitness center. Photo by A. Vincent Scarano

Gifts through the Campaign for Connecticut College funded construction of 10,000-square-foot facility

By Barbara Nagy


A new fitness center, the College´s second major construction project in three years, opened its doors in mid-August to the raves of students.

“The best part is the amount of additional space,” says Shavar Bernier ´10. “The old fitness center would be packed from 3 to 6:30. There were just so many people trying to work out.”

The $8 million facility, built with gifts from six individuals through the Campaign for Connecticut College, triples the workout and fitness space and increases the number of machines from 22 to 40. Its two stories rise above the Lyn and David Silfen Track and Field with sweeping views of the Thames River. Inside, wooden beams complement the clean lines of the metal railings, dark gray floors, and glass walls at the front and rear.

The former facility — the Jane Murchison Hamilton ´42 Fitness-Wellness Center — was renovated for group exercise, such as aerobics, Pilates, yoga and spinning.

The new 6,500-square-foot facility is an important resource for the entire campus community and a major draw for prospective students.

“Athletics and fitness are high priorities for students, for good reasons,” says President Leo I. Higdon, Jr. “Athletics is also a critical part of a liberal arts education.” By challenging themselves physically — on the playing field, in the gym or in their own fitness plan — students learn tremendous lessons about endurance, discipline and teamwork, he says.

Almost 80 percent of students already use the fitness center, and Fran Shields, the Katherine Wenk Christoffers ´45 Director of Athletics, expects use to increase.

Work on the new facility began in 2008, just as the College finished a $5 million top-to-bottom renovation of two of its largest residence halls. The six gifts, including one for $3.5 million, allowed the College to move quickly to construction after the project was announced in December 2007.

The College is raising the profile of its athletics programs, and the fitness center is the centerpiece of several facilities improvements. They include reconstruction of the south tennis courts — thanks to another gift — and at the athletics center, installation of new bleachers and a new walkway to Silfen Field and the refurbishing of the Hall of Fame.

Shields says the new fitness center is a draw for students at all levels, whether they want a good workout as part of their personal fitness regimen or plan to compete in a varsity sport. Varsity athletes want a fitness center where they can keep in top shape against NESCAC rivals, he says, and coaches have already started using the new fitness center as a recruiting tool.

Kenyon, Hamilton, Gettysburg and Vassar all have new fitness centers, he adds. “We´re staying competitive with other colleges where we´re competing for students. We´re not standing pat. I think that´s great,” Shields says.

William Wuyke, director of the fitness center, is elated. “I´m like a kid with candy,” he says. There wasn´t enough room in the old facility for everyone who wanted to use it. “It was crazy in the afternoon,” says Wuyke, the College´s strength and conditioning coach. “This will make a big, big difference.”

Work went smoothly overall, and stayed on schedule — down to the moving of the machines from the old space. All together, the move took three weeks.

Free weights and other heavy training equipment are on the first floor of the new facility, with lighter cardio machines and weight-circuit stations upstairs. Upstairs, people can watch TV, listen to music or take in the expansive view of the Thames River while working out.

The view, Shields says, is one of the things that will strike people most about the new space. They´ll also see how the new fitness center revitalizes the entire athletics center, he says.

Bernier, a varsity basketball player, says the new design is more efficient, too. To get to the lighter weights, students used to have to make their way through the area where varsity athletes would be team lifting. With the new facility, that won´t be necessary.

“Everyone has been looking forward to having it open,” Bernier says.

The Department of Athletics invited parents to visit the fitness center on Arrival Day, and hosted the College community for a ribbon-cutting and other festivities after Convocation on Sept. 3. An official dedication is being planned for the fall.


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