Following months of construction, the Matchbox, Swarthmore’s new $5.3 million, three-story, 21,000-square-foot fitness and wellness center, officially opened on Monday.
The building, built on the foundation of the old squash courts, is expected to improve the ability of student athletes to train effectively. It also provides the wider campus community with state-of-the-art fitness and wellness facilities.
By tripling the capacity of the Mullan Center, the building will, in the words of Director of Athletics Adam Hertz, “allow us to bring our facilities back under one roof.” Along with the strength and conditioning coach Eric Hoffman, the building will also house the campus wellness director, once one is hired. According to Hertz, “we will be able to coordinate with this person to implement a more comprehensive wellness and health initiative on campus.”
The building has already generated widespread campus buzz, and despite protests and chalkings around the building criticizing the College’s choice to utilize non-union labor for aspects of the project, the reactions of those who have used the new building are overwhelmingly positive.
Perhaps Jack O’Connor ’17 put it best. “It’s like Christmas,” the swimmer said, as he finished a set of lunges on one of the first floor’s eight state-of-the-art racks. O’Connor expressed excitement at the gains he hopes to make with three years of access to the facility.
The lead benefactors and visionaries for the Matchbox were, as the name suggests, a Quaker Matchbox couple. Salem Shuchman ’84 and Barbara Klock ’86 were both student athletes at the school, with Shuchman playing baseball and Klock captaining the volleyball team. The couple chose to donate towards a new fitness facility because they saw a need to replace the outdated Mullan Center.
Shuchman explained, saying, “our students do well, but our facilities are clearly not as good as they can be. Our opportunity was to provide a facility that really gave them that opportunity.”
In addition to benefiting student-athletes, Shuchman added, “We also were motivated by the idea of a space that would bring people together. You’ve got athletes and actors and faculty and staff, and I love the idea of spaces where you can come together.”
To maximize the availability and flexibility of the space, the building is configured as three large, open floors. Shuchman said that the goal for this floor plan was that “over time, if things change, you can use it in different ways.”
Hoffman oversaw the strategic layout of the building. The overall goal, in his words was, “to accommodate everybody we could. We had to think about 19-year-old performance varsity athletes and retired professor emeriti… so what we did was we programmed the floors accordingly. We pocketed the equipment based on exercise preferences. This allows us to flow through the facility more freely so that some people aren’t complaining that people are dropping weights and others aren’t complaining that they can’t do their lift.”
The bottom floor is configured for advanced strength training, with a full set of dumbbells, eight full racks, as well as agility ladders, medicine balls and other functional training equipment. This area is ideal for varsity teams, due to both the quality of equipment and the size of the space.
Men’s lacrosse coach Pat Gress summed up this sentiment, predicting that, “The Matchbox should enhance our team’s ability to prepare for the season because the entire team can workout together. When the team trains together, you have more accountability to one another: some friendly competition and team bonding.”
The second floor, where the main entrance is located, features cardio machines, a second full set of dumbbells, some benches and squat racks and several pieces of circuit-training equipment.
Rudy Pérez ’16 described his reactions upon entering the building, saying he was, “blown away by the layout.” He added, “The state-of-the-art Life Fitness equipment reminds me of my gym back home and helped me power through my lifts more efficiently than the outdated machines from the Mullan Center.”
The top floor is comprised solely of a large, open hardwood floor. Its purpose is to provide a flexible use space for everything from yoga classes to theatre to formal functions.
Hoffman said the purpose of the third floor was “to make it as versatile as we possibly could. We could have speed and agility classes, we could have group exercise classes.” Some teams have already begun using the space for yoga classes, and the space was also used for Saturday’s Matchbox Dedication Ceremony.
After years of dealing with facilities that, as Shuchman described it, “are not as good as they can be,” Swarthmore’s coaches were excited for the opportunities that the space could provide, both to improve their teams and to recruit better players.
Head men’s basketball coach Landry Kosmalski described the facility as “one of the best of any small, liberal arts school in the country.” Since he believes that “having a modern workout facility is something that seems to be important to high school athletes,” Kosmalski feels that the Matchbox “definitely” is a valuable recruiting tool.
Gress agreed, saying, “The Matchbox will be a definite stop when I am showing a prospective student the athletic facilities. It puts us more on par with similar institutions and communicates that athletes at Swarthmore are serious about their sports.”
For a lacrosse team that competes against some of the best Division III teams in the country, updated facilities can be a critical part of sustaining a winning program.
Student-athletes also felt that the facility would help their teams develop, strengthen and bond. Neither the Mullan Center nor the temporary varsity weight room housed in a shed next to the train tracks was large enough for teams such as lacrosse and baseball to train together. The Matchbox has brought with it the first opportunity for these teams to workout together and players are ecstatic about this change.
Lacrosse player Elizabeth Bachman ’15 had a simple first impression of the Matchbox. Bachman said, “I don’t know that I had a specific reaction to seeing the new building other than wishing that we had had a facility of this size and quality my freshman year.” Bachman anticipates that “the Matchbox will help our team prepare more effectively for our season in a couple of ways, mostly through the different kinds of workouts we can do and the increased frequency and enthusiasm with which we work out in the new facility. By really focusing on our fitness in the offseason, I think we will be better prepared come February 1.”
The energy and motivation did not stop with athletes, as the Matchbox exceeded expectations for many students. Jess Seigel ’16 said, “I was a little bit concerned when I first saw the original frame of the Matchbox because it seemed to be the same size as Mullan. Having now been inside and experienced the way that the multiple levels provide more space, I think that it will better serve the size and needs of the campus.”
Seigel, who exercises regularly, hopes that the building will help others on campus develop healthy lifestyles. Her first impression was positive, as she observed that the building was “definitely more crowded this morning at 7 a.m. than [the Mullan Center] had been previously.”
Pérez agrees that more people will use the new space, but emphasized caution when predicting the ability of the space alone to promote a healthier lifestyle for the campus community, saying, “A healthy lifestyle cannot be developed overnight.” That said, he believes that “this new space might motivate a greater percentage of the student body to participate in exercise and relieve school-related stress.”
The Matchbox, with its glass windows, nicely manicured outdoor area and modern interior, stands out particularly due to its juxtaposition with the Lamb Miller Field House. Like the Matchbox, this building was a once state-of-the-\art facility. The only problem is that it when it was a state of the art facility, a gallon of gasoline cost $0.19 and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in office. While the College’s Master Plan mentions “the need to address the limitations of the Lamb-Miller Field House,” there are no specific plans for major renovations of the space.
Shuchman hopes that the Matchbox, which was built by reusing the foundation and many of the building materials from the squash courts, becomes a model for renovating other buildings, including the Field House. He said, “I think that whole part of campus needs work and if you start with [reusing materials], it just feels different. My hope is that this will be the start of really starting to upgrade that part of the campus.”
Reflecting on why the couple chose to donate an athletic facility, Shuchman said, “There’s a lot of things you can give as a donor, but this is something very tangible and real that will impact student life and the campus community.” That impact is already being felt and should continue to be for years into the future.