The glass doors of Pomona-Pitzer’s spacious and contemporary new Center for Athletics, Recreation and Wellness officially swung open on Friday, October 14. The much-anticipated project has created a facility that matches the excellence of Sagehen Athletics and supports health and wellness for the campus communities of both colleges.
“We want to make sure that everyone envisions themselves in this space,” says Miriam Merrill, director of athletics and chair of physical education, inviting students, faculty and staff to come see what the new center offers even if they don’t work out regularly. Once approved, community members will receive swipe access to the building with their campus IDs.
The honor of hosting the first public sporting event in the new building fell to the women’s volleyball team, hosting Occidental at 7 p.m. on Friday, October 14.
“Really, we just can’t wait, especially walking past it every day and looking inside, Lauren Asato ’23, one of the team’s senior leaders, said as the opening approached. “We’re super excited.”
'A Major Step Forward'
Built to nurture the physical and emotional well-being of the entire campus community and to provide a new home for a Sagehen Athletics program that claimed three national titles during the 2021-22 academic year, the 100,000 square-foot facility is 15,000 feet larger than the former Rains Center. With the exception of a thoroughly refurbished Voelkel Gym, which remains the home of men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball, the building is new construction.
In addition to greatly expanded recreation and fitness facilities, the $57 million project provides 12 locker rooms, three classrooms and a vast strength-and-conditioning center to support Pomona-Pitzer’s 21-sport program, which earned its highest-ever finish among NCAA Division III programs with a No. 14 national ranking in the 2021-22 Learfield Directors’ Cup.
Generous gifts by Ranney Draper ’60 and Priscilla Draper as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, facilitated by Libby Gates MacPhee ’86, allowed Pomona to begin construction of the up-to-date facility at the site of the former Rains Center in February 2021.
“This exceptional new center will strongly support wellness for every student, faculty and staff member in our community,” says Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr. “It is a major step forward for this aspect of our Strategic Vision, and I’m grateful to all who contributed to the project.”
A Prominent Entry
The striking and unmistakable entrance to the Center for Athletics, Recreation and Wellness is marked by a double-height shaded portico facing the eastern end of Marston Quad, adjacent to Bridges Auditorium. Above, a rectangular opening to the sky pays homage to the nearby Skyspace by James Turrell ’65. In another nod to the surrounding campus, perforated metal shades create dappled shadows on the concrete below that are meant to be reminiscent of the shade provided by oak trees.
Once inside, the feeling is airy and contemporary, with expansive use of glass throughout, white walls and blonde wood and stainless-steel accents. Repurposed wood from the basketball court of a 20th-century campus gym decorates the front desk, highlighted by a painted Sagehen. A larger piece of the old court with a vintage painted Pomona-Pitzer logo marks the interior hallway to Voelkel Gym. More of the maple strips, refinished in a lighter tone, line the casual seating areas on one side of the broad central stairway to the upstairs gym and Athletics Department offices.
A stunning focal point of the facility is the second-floor recreational and practice gym, with nearly floor-to-ceiling views of the San Gabriel Mountains and their snow-capped tops in winter. A central space for many of Pomona-Pitzer’s 900 intramural athletes, 550 club athletes and physical education classes, the gym can host multiple basketball, volleyball or badminton games at once and features benches and cubbies to stash belongings while playing. Topped by clerestory windows that allow in even more light, the gym has a new wood ceiling that is designed to harken back to the distinctive wood ceiling of the former Memorial Gym.
To the left just inside the main first-floor entry is a 5,877 square-foot fitness center that is 2,000 square feet larger than the one in the previous facility. Surrounded on three sides by nearly floor-to-ceiling windows, the workout area provides views of trees and passing students and is also meant to entice passersby to come inside and exercise. The wide array of new cardio equipment features a quartet of Peloton bikes, plus plentiful weight machines and a variety of free weights.
- Elliptical trainers
- Stair climbers
- Recumbent bikes
- Peloton bikes
Studios and Classrooms
To the right inside the front doors is Studio 147—a room number cleverly arranged by Project Manager Brian Faber, who guided the 1 1/2-year construction to completion despite pandemic-related delays and challenges. The downstairs studio will be the site of new spinning classes, with 16 spin bikes that can be stored during other classes or personal workouts. A second studio upstairs will be used for yoga, Pilates and other classes, doubling the number of studios previously available for physical education and fitness classes. The center also includes three classrooms with such features as whiteboards and screens that can be used for P.E. classes, team meetings and other group sessions.
Athletic Performance Center
On the first floor with a view of Merritt Field, the 4,876 square-foot strength and conditioning center for Pomona-Pitzer’s 450 NCAA Division III athletes and other users such as P.E. classes has enough equipment to allow more than 50 athletes to lift weights at the same time.
“The weight room is going to be unbelievable,” says Pomona-Pitzer Football Coach John Walsh, an assistant professor of physical education, emphasizing how much more efficient it will be for most of the team to be able to lift together instead of waiting for time in small groups. New Olympic lifting platforms painted in Sagehen blue and orange not only figure to be motivating but are likely to contribute to an atmosphere that builds team chemistry and attracts new student athletes.
“We’ve had recruits on campus looking through the windows from the field,” Walsh says. “We have world-class academics at Pomona and Pitzer, and now we have the facilities to match that excellence.”
Athletic Performance Coach Greg Hook PZ ’14 says the demand for strength and conditioning opportunities has risen along with the dramatic recent success of Sagehen Athletics, citing the women’s soccer players as among the dedicated teams.
“The availability and access that our athletes now have to year-round training is something we’ve never really had before,” says Hook, a former Pomona-Pitzer track standout, noting the strength-and-conditioning area compares with some Division I facilities.
“I’m obviously biased but it’s probably a top-five Division III facility,” Hook says.
A sampling of the equipment:
- 12 Olympic weightlifting platforms
- 18 weightlifting benches
- 8 fan-wheel bikes
- 2 sets of dumbbells from 5-100 pounds
- 3-lane artificial turf strip
- Throwing wall
The only part of the former facility that remains largely intact, Voelkel Gym is recognizable mainly by its shape. With a new court, a striking Sagehens logo on one wall, retractable stands and a capacity of 1,733, it remains home to the Sagehens women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball teams. The additional space from a little-used second court has been put to better use elsewhere in the facility.
“I think that visitors, whether it be spectators or visiting teams, are going to be wowed by the beauty of the new building,” says Merrill, the athletics director. “As we invite visiting teams into the building as well as us hosting the games, it creates a feeling of pride and competition that I think is going to be really great.”
Pomona College first announced plans for the new center in December 2018, and construction began in February 2021 during the COVID-19 campus closure.
Designed by SCB and principal architect Tim M. Stevens and built by C.W. Driver, the Center for Athletics, Recreation and Wellness is on target for LEED Gold certification as a healthy, efficient green building. Its extensive features to save energy and water result in a 35% EUI reduction compared to code baseline, a 39% indoor water-use reduction and a 50% outdoor water-use reduction.
Among the building’s sustainable design features:
- Low-E glass
- Passive solar shading strategies
- Ample natural daylighting
- LED lighting
- High-efficiency cooling and heating
- No-VOC and low-VOC finishes
- Super-low-flow plumbing fixtures
- High solar-reflective roofs
- Planned rooftop solar array
New Gathering Places
The center also provides new campus gathering places. The first floor includes a large central area where students and other visitors can relax, with a screen available for watch parties. A new Hall of Fame display commemorates the history and growing success of Sagehen Athletics. Upstairs, a large shaded terrace overlooking the football and baseball fields creates an appealing setting for special events or hosting visiting recruits.
Newly landscaped areas outside the main entrance facing Marston Quad and along Sixth Street invite passersby and visitors to pause amid the many native and drought-adaptive plants. Existing older oak trees are joined by a newly planted oak between Smiley Hall and the new building, and new sycamore and podocarpus trees will provide future shade. The familiar steel sculpture by Norman Hines ’61, “In the Spirit of Excellence,” remains in its original location but is more prominent in the new landscape design.
A new courtyard faces Sixth Street, marked by eight sycamore trees, a central planter and two long concrete benches, providing an area for fans to gather before or after games or for students to stop during the day. A focal point is the 13-foot tall, silver-painted metal sculpture “Four Players” by Bret Price '72, a contemporary sculptor of monumental steel, now mounted on an exterior wall of Voelkel Gym after the artist oversaw a move from inside the former Memorial Gym.
“From athletics to art to environmental sustainability, this project brings together so many aspects of the Pomona experience,” says President Starr. “It’s a place for everyone in our community to pursue wellness as we all seek balance in our lives.”