As students once again stroll down Stover Walk toward Bridges Auditorium, the steel framing of Pomona College’s new center for athletics, recreation and wellness rises in front of them.
Scheduled to open in fall 2022, the 99,925 square-foot building will feature not only facilities for Pomona-Pitzer Athletics but also a vastly expanded fitness area, plentiful locker rooms, three classrooms, two weight rooms and two large studios for activities such as yoga or spinning as Pomona renews its emphasis on physical and mental wellness for the entire campus community.
A Focus on Wellness
“It's just so timely, with COVID, the pandemic and being back on campus,” says Miriam Merrill, the director of athletics and chair of physical education since July 2020.
“This is part of how we reinvent wellness on our campus,” Merrill says, noting that wellness is a component of the 2020 Strategic Vision for Pomona College. “With our new studio space and classrooms, we will have the ability to have an array of P.E. classes and can bring in speakers to talk about topics like sleep or nutrition. There are so many ways that we can utilize the additional space, which will supply a reinvigorating energy within the building.”
Generous gifts by Ranney Draper ’60 and Priscilla Draper as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation allowed Pomona to begin construction of the $55 million facility at the site of the former Rains Center in February 2021.
In addition to supporting more than 450 Sagehen varsity athletes, the building’s expanded and updated spaces will serve more than 900 intramural athletes, 550 club athletes and student physical education classes, as well as fitness and recreation programming for students, faculty and staff.
One of the features of the new building likely to be popular is the second-floor recreational and practice gym, with a large floor-to-ceiling window that will provide a stunning view of the San Gabriel Mountains. Another is a tidbit that Project Manager Brian Faber is proud of: The room number of the first-floor studio is a nod to Pomona lore: Studio 147.
New P.E. Classes
As part of promoting wellness, Pomona recently began requiring two physical education courses for graduation. Beginning next fall, the athletic department expects to be able to give students more classes to choose among, says Valerie Townsend, the coordinator of physical education for Pomona-Pitzer and coach of the women’s volleyball team.
“The new facility is going to allow us to expand our physical education offerings, with the addition of new classes such as a spin class or advanced fencing, as well as the possibility of adding additional sections of our more popular classes,” she says. “We will have a studio with a more durable floor for classes such as spin and cardio kickboxing, while the upstairs studio will have a wooden floor to allow for classes such as yoga, Pilates, dance, etc.”
Recreational, intramural and club athletes will find added opportunities too, with a 5,588 square-foot fitness area, more studio space, more courts and separate weight rooms for the campus community and varsity teams.
That’s appealing to David Rodriguez ’23, who has been going to an off-campus club to train after getting into weightlifting during the pandemic. A co-captain of the 5C men’s club volleyball team, which competes against teams from other colleges, Rodriguez also has been eager for access to additional courts.
“A lot of the times we can't host the tournaments we want to,” he says. “Hopefully this gives us that space to bring in other teams. I can tell you that we're all excited to see it.”
More and Larger Locker Rooms
Even varsity teams faced space limitations in the former Rains Center, which opened in 1989 and was largely demolished before construction began. Voelkel Gym, the home court of the men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball teams, is the only area of the former facility that remains largely intact but is being refurbished in addition to a structural upgrade.
One of the more frustrating aspects of Rains was the locker rooms, with too few available and some much too small for the teams that used them. The football program, with its large roster, will have a 1,538 square-foot locker room. But it’s just one of 12 in the new building, including four general-use locker rooms and eight for varsity teams. The four for women’s teams and four for men’s teams will help avoid the traffic jam for sports with overlapping seasons.
Kaitlyn Leung ’23, a guard on the women’s basketball team, recalls having to switch locker rooms depending on which teams were in season.
“It will be more even,” Leung says. “We used to joke that the smaller locker room was kind of like a closet with all of us in there.”
She is one of the group of junior athletes who will get to experience both buildings, playing in the new facility as a senior after starting her career in the Rains Center —and admittedly looking longingly across Sixth Street at Roberts Pavilion on the Claremont McKenna campus.
The new athletic center, designed by the architectural firm SCB and built by C.W. Driver, adds approximately 15,000 square feet to the previous facility and is aimed toward LEED Gold certification for leadership in energy and environmental design. With expansive use of glass, the design is contemporary yet also melds with the surrounding campus with its red-tiled roof and nods to the designs of Bridges Auditorium and the nearby Skyspace by artist James Turrell ’65.
“I’m very excited for what they have planned,” Leung says. “We’re always saying Roberts is so nice, and now we can also be really proud of our gym.”