When students returned to Stonehill College for the fall semester recently, they were greeted by a sparkling new addition to the campus.
The Sally Blair Ames Sports Complex, located behind the end zone at W.B. Mason Stadium, now includes the 55,024 square foot Rev. Mark T. Cregan, C.S.C., Athletic and Fitness Center.
The building, named after the school’s ninth president, is where the athletics department is now housed and includes meeting rooms, coaches offices, locker rooms, a strength and conditioning center, fitness room and a sports medicine facility.
The renovation of the sports complex and the addition of the athletic and fitness center took over a year, and the finished product is an impressive sight in the combined 100,000 square foot building.
Members of the Stonehill staff saw that from the reactions students and their families had as they toured the building for the first time.
“It was neat,’’ said Dean O’Keefe, Stonehill’s first-year director of athletics. “The first team to come was football and their parents came in and it was like opening the gates to Disney, not just the student-athletes but the families.
“They were taking pictures of everything, the logos, the trophies. You don’t expect to see this at the Division 2 level. The reaction was priceless.’’
The facility is being used by the 20 varsity sports teams, 11 club sports teams, 20-plus intramural sports and by students, faculty and staff.
Greeting visitors as soon as they walk in the front door is a large mural of a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, accompanying an exhibit in honor of James “Lou’’ Gorman, a 1953 Stone hill graduate and former Red Sox general manager.
Included in the display are two World Series rings won by Gorman as well as memorabilia from his relation ship with Stonehill through the years.
There is a suite of offices for the football team and a suite of offices for coaches of other teams as well as ad ministrators.
The 7,700 square foot weight room and nearly 20,000 square foot fitness area have all the latest equipment, and there is a view of W.B. Ma son from the second-floor room.
There will also be displays of trophies, old Stonehill uniforms, ticket stubs and other items to show the history of the school’s athletics program. There are five new locker rooms and eight renovated locker rooms.
“I would come in once a month just to check the progress as is was under construction,’’ said football coach Robert Talley. “You saw the evolution of it. I think it was some thing that still took your breath away once you moved in.
“The first day of practice felt weird just opening the door and walking out to practice (a short distance away). It’s been really nice.
“People walk through the door and they’re just like, ‘Oh, my goodness. I can’t believe it.’ The first few days, I had guys (on the team) just wandering around the building. They almost didn’t want to leave the building.’’
Women’s soccer coach Alex Wilson, a 2008 Stonehill graduate, said the modern facility is going to help teams in the recruiting process.
“The first recruit I toured around, her immediate reaction was, ‘This is better than any place I’ve seen,’ and she’s been looking at a lot of other NE-10 schools,’’ said Wilson. “I feel so fortunate to be this close to it in a program I was able to play for.
“In 2005, my sophomore year, we got our first varsity-only weight room downstairs here and we felt, ‘This is as good as it’s going to get.’ Now the players get to experience something that’s awesome.’’
The men’s and women’s basket ball teams plus the volleyball team re main at Merkert Gym with the coach es offices in that building a short distance away.
O’Keefe, a Stonehill graduate who took over the program this summer, said the Skyhawks’ center for the athletics department ranks high when compared to others.
“For all the Division 2 institutions I’ve been to in my career, this sets the bar pretty high in terms of athletics,’’ said O’Keefe. “There are many Division 1 institutions that would give up an awful lot to have this facility, too.
“To have a central home is great. We’ve got a number of beautiful facilities. This kind of completes the puzzles from a facility standpoint.’’