After delay, construction begins on new indoor practice facility

by Charles Chen | 1/18/19 3:15am

Following a long delay, construction officially began this past Monday on a new building on campus. Contractors began laying down hardpack to allow for the movement of heavy vehicles for the 70,000-square-foot indoor athletic facility to be located near Thompson Arena and Burnham Field, adjacent to the Boss Tennis Center.

According to vice president of planning, design and construction John Scherding, planning for a new athletic facility began over five years ago with a feasibility study conducted in 2012. The permit was origionally denied by the Hanover planning board in 2016, but was ultimately granted by the New Hampshire Supreme Court in November 2018.

Officials had identified a need for indoor practice space for Dartmouth athletic teams, said Bob Ceplikas ’78, deputy director of athletics and recreation at the College. 

“As the northernmost Ivy League school, Dartmouth faces unique challenges regarding the need for indoor practice space,” Ceplikas said. 

According to Ceplikas, demand for Leverone Field House, currently the only multi-use indoor athletic facility on campus, far exceeds its capacity.

The new practice facility is planned for completion in March 2020, though according to Scherding, College officials are hoping to hasten construction as much as possible.

“We’re trying to push as hard as we can on the schedule,” he said. “We would love to have the facility usable for as much of the winter term next year as possible.” 

According to Ceplikas, the primary feature of the new facility is a 56,000-square-foot turf field, nearly three times the size of the turf field in the Leverone Field House. It will also include two batting tunnels, video filming platforms and a sports medicine space.

While the facility will primarily serve the varsity baseball, football, lacrosse, rugby, soccer and softball teams, it will also provide additional flexibility to varsity field hockey, club sports and recreational sports in Leverone Field House, Ceplikas said.

Planning for a new facility continued with building design in the summer of 2015, but College officials ran into difficulty after meeting with the town planning board, Scherding said.  

As a private college, Dartmouth has to meet zoning laws but also go through the town planning board site plan review and receive approval for any new construction, according to Hanover town manager Julia Griffin.

Griffin said that though the majority of Hanover residents would be unaffected by the new facility, the town heard from concerned townspeople whose residences would abut the new building

“The people we heard from were largely from the immediate vicinity,” she said. “It is a big industrial building, larger than your average college building constructed abutting a neighborhood. There was a general concern about the impact of the large building on the way their neighborhood feels or looks.”

In response to Hanover residents’ concerns, Scherding noted that several changes were made to the design of the facility, including decreasing the number of windows, lowering the building’s overall height, agreeing to guidelines about building usage times and noise level and limiting movement of construction vehicles to Thompson Lot. However, in December 2016, the town planning board voted 4-1 to deny the College’s application for a construction permit. 

“It’s pretty unusual for the planning board to deny a College application, but it is not unusual to have abutter concern or opposition to College projects when the projects are happening on the periphery of campus,” Griffin said. 

She added that for most Dartmouth construction projects that occur more centrally on campus, there is less concern.

The College appealed the planning board’s decision in court. Though a New Hampshire court first ruled in the town’s favor, in November 2018 the New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling, clearing the way for the College to construct the new facility.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court also granted the College a “builder’s remedy,” removing the need to reapply for a building permit, Scherding said.

Scherding said that the indoor practice space has a simple construction design and will include many prefabricated parts, which will allow an accelerated construction schedule.

He also said that because of the new facility’s location, disruption to campus will be minimal and facilities near the new building like the Boss Tennis Center would be unaffected by construction.

The new facility is fully funded by alumni gifts. Over $125 million — a combination of institutional support and alumni donations — have been invested in Dartmouth athletic facilities over the past 20 years, according to Ceplikas. Other athletic construction projects currently being undertaken include renovations to the ski team’s lockers in Robinson Hall and to the Friends of Dartmouth Rowing Boathouse.

The College typically grants naming privileges for new buildings to each project’s lead donor. For this new facility, the lead donor is currently anonymous but has reserved naming rights. Ceplikas said that for now, the facility will be known as the Dartmouth indoor practice facility. 

Correction appended (Jan. 18, 2019): This article has been corrected to reflect that the new practice facility will be located near Burnham Field. 

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