New Multipurpose Building in Development Stage

Stu Hain, Vice President of Facilities and Services, explains plans for a new building on campus. Julia Carleton/ Phoenix Staff
Stu Hain, Vice President of Facilities and Services, explains plans for a new building on campus.
Julia Carleton/Phoenix Staff

On Friday, Sept. 28, Vice President for Facilities and Services Stu Hain, Dean of Students Liz Braun, Director of Athletics Adam Hertz, Wellness Coordinator Satya Nelms and Secretary of the College and Vice President for Communications Nancy Nicely met to discuss their plan to create a new building on campus. The two-story complex would be a multipurpose building for wellness, fitness and theater, and would replace the space that now houses the squash courts and team weight room.“When I first got here a little over two years ago … one of the major themes students were talking about was wellness, support for wellness and how to access that,” Braun said.

Nelms, who agrees that a focus on wellness has grown on campus in the past couple of years, hopes to get students to be proactive about their health and maintain a sense of their well-being.

“One of the things that I work on is integrating wellness into the campus community as much as possible, and part of that is providing numerous outlets for wellness,” she said. “A lot of that comes from students asking … for support and then one of the hardest parts I do is scrambling and finding where to do it.”

As of now, Wharton C basement serves as the wellness lounge on campus. The problem, though, is that the lounge can only fit 12 seated people or five active ones. It is often not large enough to accommodate groups looking to use the space. Nelms hopes to create a centralized place for wellness so that people don’t have to struggle to find somewhere to go.

Hain thinks this multipurpose building would also maximize efficiency of space and improve people’s workout experience. Because Swarthmore College no longer has a varsity squash team, the space is underutilized, so those involved in the project want to repurpose the space to accommodate three prominent aspects of campus and blend academics and athletics.

The Mullan Center, which was built in 2000, was a suitable space for fitness at the time. With increased faculty and student focus on fitness, however, the 3,000-square foot space now feels cramped with equipment and people. Last year, a varsity gym was created to try to ameliorate the space issue, but, while it was successful in that way, it segregated the student population.

“This new building will re-introduce the athlete population to the rest of the school population,” Hertz said. “We think it will offer a more pleasant environment for working out, because equipment won’t be stacked on top of each other.”

The theater department is another department without sufficient space. For a while, Hicks Hall’s Mural Room was an available rehearsal space, but they lost that space.

“In the ideal world, they need a classroom that mimics the black box theater, and that would also give us a room that could mimic the main stage,” Hain said about the theater space in the proposed building. “So that would allow them rehearsal space.”

With ample closet space for props and materials as part of the blueprint for the new building, the theater department has offered to make its designated space available for fitness and wellness in the morning.

“In this one project are so many different principles from the strategic plan,” Braun said. “I think it will bring folks together in a really neat way. The last major theme from the strategic plan is flexible space … a lot of what we’re trying to take on in any project at this time is flexible space.”

In the meeting, Hertz not only agreed that the idea of a flexible space is beneficial but also expressed that he thinks the combination of the three aspects of student life makes sense.

“In many ways, wellness and fitness are performing arts … so the three aspects work perfectly together,” he said. “ We want to allow fitness and wellness to work collaboratively together, which will allow us to better enhance what we do for the student population.”

The two-story building, which will be an estimated 7,000 square feet per floor, will be built out of both glass and insulated walls. The first floor will contain space for a lobby, cubbies, showers, storage, office space, and theater, fitness, and wellness facilities, while the second floor will be an open space available for fitness.

“We wind up with, if we can do this, this space plus space in the Mullan Center,” Hain said. “So we’ll have at least double, probably triple, the space we have now for wellness and fitness.”

The Mullan Center will still serve wellness and fitness purposes, but how exactly it will complement the new building is still undetermined.

Hain hopes to use as much of the lumber of the old building as possible, and the blueprints show sweeping roofs and ventilating windows to maximize natural light. With this architecture, people on the second floor should be able to see through the glass walls onto Clothier Field. Another plan for the building is an expansive platform deck that will allow for outdoor wellness activity on days with good weather.

“Fundraising for the wellness/fitness/theatre center was just recently approved by the Board of Managers, so we’re still very early in the process of identifying potential donors for this project, who are likely to be parents and alumni-parents,” Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Karl Clauss said in an email.

The project cost is an estimated four million dollars, which Clauss said they hope to raise by this summer or early fall of 2013. The estimated project time is 15 months from the start of construction.

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