Trustees approve $38 million athletic facility overhaul

by Ben Zimmerman | 6/23/05 5:00am

For all those Big Green student-athletes who covet Kresge treadmills like Saddam Hussein wants a do-over, your prayers have been answered.

At its June meeting, the Dartmouth Board of Trustees approved a $38 million proposal to renovate and expand the College's athletic facilities.

The plan features a refurbished Alumni Gymnasium, a revamped Memorial Field and new soccer accommodations worthy of the Big Green's nationally-competitive men's and women's programs.

"I'm very happy with the changes," Athletics Director Josie Harper said. "We're getting some things that were on the time table but, fortunately, have been moved up."

After almost a century as the centerpiece of Dartmouth's athletic infrastructure, Alumni Gymnasium's latest facelift may prove the most dramatic.

The oft-criticized Kresge Fitness Center will be replaced by a 14,000-square-foot recreational fitness center on the gym's upper level, more than three times the size of it predecessor.

In addition, the 95-year old structure will house eight new multi-use fitness spaces boasting 10,000 square feet for physical education classes, fitness instruction, club sport practices and other recreational activities.

"We knew we had to do something for the fitness center. That was a major priority of ours," College President James Wright said. "By moving the varsity fitness center out, we're going to be able to significantly expand the amount of fitness space that will be available to undergraduates."

Construction has already begun on Karl Michael Pool " also lodged within Alumni Gymnasium " to install a dehumidification system, elevator, fire-safety systems, a new accessible entrance and improved offices for coaches and staff.

"The basic ventilation system has never been right. If you look upstairs above the pool, the floors were warped, and we knew we had to address that," Wright said. "And, of course, in addressing that, we also were able to make available that third floor space in ways it hadn't been available before."

Varsity swimming and diving will start practicing in the pool by October, while the entire gym project should be wrapped up by February 2006.

Big Green football's Memorial Field will also undergo a handful of major changes.

The overall capacity of the building will be trimmed from 20,000 to 13,000, with the east stands replaced by steeper seating and a new three-story varsity athletic house equipped with a 9,300-square-foot varsity strength training center, a "smart classroom," meeting rooms for the entire department, football locker facilities and offices for football and several other sports.

The newest generation of synthetic "infill" turf, which simulates grass but is far more durable and tolerates a wider variety of weather conditions, will replace Memorial Field's present, all-natural playing surface.

Work on Memorial Field is slated to begin immediately after the 2005 football season and, if all goes according to plan, will finish by the summer of 2006.

The new soccer facility, named Burnham Field in honor of former Dartmouth soccer coach Alden "Whitey" Burnham '46, will be located in the vicinity of Dartmouth's Scully-Fahey field, within the area known as Chase Field.

Plans for the Burnham Field include a top-quality natural grass playing surface, permanent seating for 1,600 spectators and NCAA-approved lighting.

"The permanent seating in the new competition soccer facility will accommodate approximately the same number of spectators as the simple bleachers that have been used at Chase Field for many years," Deputy Director of Athletics Robert Ceplikas said, "but the new grandstand will have aisles, railings, handicapped access and a press box, very similar to the grandstand at Scully-Fahey Field."

The "competition soccer facility" owes its name to Stanley Smoyer '34, who generously donated $4.5 million under the condition that the field be named after Burnham.

Burnham coached both of Smoyer's sons in the 1960s and led the Big Green to its first Ivy League championship in 1964.

Five years later, Burnham left the bench to serve as the assistant director of athletics and later, associate director.

Despite the near $40 million bill attached to the project, the Big Green athletic department remains confident that the money will not go to waste.

"This is going to make Dartmouth more competitive in the future for recruited athletes but also among regular Dartmouth prospective students," Harper said. "Once you decide which schools meet your academic goals, the next things you look at are the recreational options, and I believe we're going to have one of the best facilities " if not the best " in the [Ivy] League."

Though the upgrade to Dartmouth's athletic complex comes less than seven months after the public release of Dean of Admissions Karl Furstenberg's infamous letter condemning varsity sports, President Wright made explicitly clear that this newest wave of construction was a long time coming.

"We have a long-standing focus on the athletic program," Wright said. "I think over the last several months, we were willing to see if we couldn't move some of that ahead a little faster " we talked to [Head Football Coach] Buddy Teevens about doing that, but these are not things that haven't been on our radar screen for the renovation of athletic facilities.

"We had a major consulting group in here in 2000, looking at all our athletic " both intercollegiate and recreational facilities."

Whatever the motivation, by the time everything is finally completed all members of the Dartmouth community should be a little happier.