New Sports Complex Inspires an Active Campus to Step Up Its Game

March 21, 2016

Think of a state-of-the-art fitness center, and certain images spring to mind: gleaming rows of exercise equipment, aesthetically pleasing locker rooms, and modern studios for aerobics and other fitness classes.

This year, all of that and more came to Stonehill with the 50,000-square-foot expansion and renovation of the Sally Blair Ames Sports Complex (SpoCo). What has caught the campus community by surprise, however, is how the stunning beauty and uniquely welcoming complex has transformed an exercise destination into a sanctuary to inspire the mind.

“This is a dramatic new space,” says Dean O’Keefe ’94, director of athletics, “not just a new building with paint. In some ways, a treadmill is just a treadmill, but with all the glass windows and panoramic views in such a modern setting, the students are feeling an extra inspiration.”

Maria Sullivan, director of health services, echoes that observation. “The glass walls are phenomenal,” she says. “When you’re inside, you can look out onto the track, which might even motivate students to go the track, or you can look to the peacefulness of the woods. All that light is such a mood booster itself.”

A New Home Base for a Fitness-minded Community Active All Over Campus

The renovations are the latest, and most visually striking, example of Stonehill’s commitment to helping students stay fit and active. This is a campus where more than 80 percent of students participate in sports at the varsity, club or intramural level. And whether it’s a football game at W.B. Mason Stadium, Ultimate Disc on the quad, beach volleyball on the College’s sand courts or rugby on its lush and expansive rec sports fields, the center of this active universe is SpoCo.

The facility’s two-story addition, which is named the Rev. Mark T. Cregan, C.S.C. Athletic and Fitness Center, has brought significant enhanced fitness and wellness options for every member of the campus community, from NCAA Division II varsity teams to intramural and club players to recreational users. There are now locker rooms for all varsity programs that compete on campus – along with new state-of-the-art sports medicine facilities for those teams –  more than 200 pieces of exercise equipment, a large field house, two group exercise rooms and a dance studio.

“This is the first time we have had a dedicated dance studio on campus,” says Valerie Robertson, director of the Stonehill Dance Company. “It is huge, and it has everything a dancer would want in a studio.” Robertson points out the new space has allowed many new dance opportunities on campus — so that anyone, from the audition-required Dance Company to the student-run Dance Club to those who just want to practice hip-hop, can take advantage of the studio’s mirrored walls, first-rate music system, professional flooring and windows streaming light into every corner of the room.

It’s a particularly exciting development for Robertson, who is among the many who likes to emphasize the connection between physical fitness and brain fitness. “When you are exercising your muscles, you are benefiting your physical and heart muscles and also your brain,” she explains. “College students need a release.”

Evolving Program Aims to Maximize Facility’s Benefits

Jessica Greene, a health and wellness educator, sees it as well. “Exercising improves emotions and reduces stress,” she says, “and it also gets people connected through group sports classes.” In February, Greene brought a therapeutic yoga instructor to SpoCo for a special mind-body yoga class. “It helped students understand how to relax, unwind and get in touch with their bodies. For those who are struggling, getting in touch with what their body feels and needs helps with every area of their lives.”

Students are also gravitating to the complex because it offers classroom and study spaces. “It’s such a flexible use space that it can host a variety of activities for our students,” says O’Keefe. “I see students who are there for larges stretches of the day — they’ll come in for an exercise class or a workout and then shower and then study or go downstairs for a class.”

Though Stonehill already offers extensive programming for intramural and club sports and individual fitness, O’Keefe sees many more untapped opportunities. “The next stage is how do we look to change the programming to maximize the building even more. This is a hub of social activity as well as physical fitness. We’re going to be hosting more social events in addition to sports events. Connecting the body and spirit is part of who we are. This building makes a statement that this is an important value at Stonehill.”