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Athletics Construction Commences

By Rima Arnaout


In an effort to update and expand athletics facilities on campus, MIT finally broke ground on a new athletics center Friday after a year’s delay.

The official name for the building will be the Al and Barrie Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center, in honor of their $20 million donation to the project, announced at the groundbreaking.

The new sports center is due to open by July 2002, and will be located on the courtyard between the Johnson Athletics Center and Du Pont Gymnasium.

“It was a terrific event,” said Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict. “This is just a major, major investment in the future of student life, as well as for faculty and staff. To see the Institute and friends and alumni step forward and invest in such an important facility is just very exciting.”

The Zesiger Center “is going to provide almost unlimited fitness opportunities for the entire MIT community,” said Roger F. Crosley, director of Sports Information. “We were also extremely happy with the number of people who turned out. Obviously sports is a very important part of campus life, and the people treated it as such,” Crosley said.

MIT pledged to build the center in 1998. Building for the facility was scheduled to begin in July 1999 but was delayed a year because “the funding that was needed to get the building started had not been received by that point, so it was necessary to put the building on hold for a year,” Crosley said.

The project was slated to cost about $40 million. It will now cost between $45 and $52 million, Crosley said. The groundbreaking was late, but “we were happy just to get to that day. It’s all been worth it,” Crosley said.

Fundraising for the project was heavily dependent on outside donors. In addition to Albert Zesiger ’51 and Barrie Zesiger, four other couples donated money toward the project: Thomas Gerrity ’63 and Ann Gerrity, Thomas Folger ’49 and Dorothy Folger, Alexander d’Arbeloff ’49 and Brit d’Arbeloff SM ’61, and Tom and Nicole Hynes, whose son Tod Hynes ’02 plays on the football team.

Center has its drawbacks

Although many think an investment in athletics is long overdue, some members of the MIT community have concerns about the impact the new building will have on the campus’s green spaces and about the ability of a building alone to address all the shortcomings of the athletics program at MIT.

The new athletics facility will take up the green space where students currently hold barbecues and other events with no real way of making it up elsewhere.

“We had to put [the building] up in the footprint that was available to us, and unfortunately, [the courtyard] was the only one that’s available. We don’t have enough field space that we could afford to use some west of Johnson,” Crosley said.

The athletics department was also looking for a space close to the existing sports centers. There had been occasional problems with having the Alumni Pool on the east side of campus, Crosley said.

There will be landscaping around the building, Benedict said, but “there really isn’t more space to create” in terms of creating more space.

“We’re a very landlocked campus so I think we’re going to end up sacrificing some land,” he said, “But in terms of the tradeoff in what it’s going to do for student life, it’s a necessary and worthwhile decision.”

Athletics hopes for more support

While the building is an important investment in athletics at MIT, the department hopes for more funding to support programming as well. Earlier this year, the athletics department had to cut many JV teams for lack of funding.

With the building of the new center, Crosley said, the student athletics fee will increase, although he is not yet sure by how much. Because the student fee is part of tuition, however, Crosley said that students would not feel the change. The fee will also increase for faculty and staff.

In February, the athletics department got rid of the $20 athletics card that students could buy to gain a year’s access to sports facilities, and replaced it with a $50 athletics fee included in tuition for every student.

“Dean Benedict has visited and made a promise to us that he’s going to request more money for the athletics operating budget, and we’re hopeful that he’ll be successful,” Crosley said.

“My observation is that athletics has been underfunded for some time now. Clearly we need to find some more resources, which I’m prepared to do, but it must be done in a systematic way.” Plans for organizing fundraising efforts are still ahead.

But the Zesiger center will come with at least some support for programming. “In terms of the new building, the staff are putting together a business plan that includes money for new programming around fitness and around health issues,” Benedict said.

New center has pool, lockers

The athletics center will be used by varsity teams, junior varsity teams, intramural teams and individuals. Certain features, like an Olympic-class 50-meter pool with a separate teaching pool and six squash courts, will replace the existing function of the Alumni Pool in east campus. The center will also provide additional space for activities that go on in Du Pont. Currently Du Pont houses a fitness room big enough for 50 people, but the new building will have a health-fitness center that can accommodate 200 to 250 users, as well as a multi-use court for volleyball, aerobics, basketball, and in-line hockey.

Also, there will be 600 lockers in addition to swimming and water polo team rooms, and there will be a sports medicine center and administrative offices.

The architectural firms of Roche & Dinkeloo and Sasaki Associates designed the building.