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Construction to begin on new sports and fitness center

President Charles Vest has anounced $10 million in new gifts that will allow construction to begin on the long-awaited sports and fitness center, which will feature an Olympic-class swimming pool, squash courts, a multiple-activity court, and a health and fitness center. The site is next to the Johnson Athletic Center.

Construction was authorized by the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation and is expected to begin this fall, pending the necessary permits and approvals from the City of Cambridge. Preliminary summer work will include renovations of the DuPont locker rooms followed by demolition of Briggs Field House. The project is scheduled for completion in June 2002.

"This facility will have a profound impact on the athletics department as well as the broader MIT community," Dr. Vest said. "I am confident it will become a magnet for students, faculty and staff alike. The vision of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning is now becoming a tangible reality. As the task force noted, athletics contributes in important ways to community by helping our students develop their teamwork and leadership skills."

The decision was made possible, Dr. Vest said, "through the magnificent generosity of Al and Barrie Zesiger," who increased their pledge to $12 million, or $4 million above what they initially pledged in 1996. Al Zesiger (SB 1951), a champion of fitness for four decades, is a member of the visiting committee for the Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation. Barrie Zesiger is a member of the Corporation and is on the visiting committees for the Office of the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education and the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. They are founding partners of the Zesiger Capital Group, LLC in New York.

"I developed an interest in lifetime fitness at MIT through participation in swimming, fencing, sailing and the myriad activities of the Outing Club," Mr. Zesiger commented. "Barrie and I continue this interest by regularly swimming, skiing and fitness training. It has become a meaningful part of our lives, and something we enjoy together. We are delighted to be a part of establishing a state-of-the-art facility at MIT where fitness can become an important part of campus life and sociability."

The new Zesiger gift, said Dr. Vest, "was matched by an extraordinary contribution" of $4 million from Alex d'Arbeloff (SB 1949), chair of the Corporation, and Brit d'Arbeloff (SB 1961).

"Recently, at a dinner of the Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation Visiting Committee, the members discussed the very significant impact sports facilities have on the entire MIT community," Mr. d'Arbeloff said. "When I got home, Brit and I talked about the new sports and fitness center. We wholeheartedly agreed this was an important effort for us to support."

Thomas P. Gerrity Jr., co-founder of Index Group and a faculty member at the Wharton School of Management at the University of Pennsylvania, also a member of the athletics visiting committee, donated $2 million for a health and fitness center with weight training and exercise equipment.

Mr. Gerrity said, "I have always believed that a great sports and fitness program at MIT goes hand in hand with student excellence and academic accomplishment, adding a healthy balance to the total experience."

"These generous gifts will help to create a sports and fitness center worthy of our students," said Chancellor Lawrence Bacow.

Richard A. Hill, director of athletics, expressed his gratitude to the donors and administrators who have pursued the quest for a new facility. "We enter the new millennium with a renewed commitment to MIT's motto of 'mind and hand,' and the sports/fitness center project, along with numerous other capital improvements and renovations to the existing athletic facilities, serves as the cornerstone of this philosophy," he said. "I am elated at our department's opportunity to enhance student and community experiences through increased flexibility for providing recreation spaces and program opportunities."

The pools (50 meter and teaching) are located in the center of the building in a space three stories tall, allowing for optimum climate and sun control. At the same time, the pool will be visible from the Stratton Student Center and from a major north-south public corridor on the first floor.

On the second floor, health/fitness areas will surround the pool on two sides; the athletics department administration offices will also overlook the pool and Kresge Auditorium to the south. Six squash courts and a multiactivity court will be located on the third floor, and also will have views into the pool. Locker room facilities will serve the pool directly, and team training and equipment rooms will be located on the first and second floors as well as in DuPont Athletic Center.

The community barbecue pits on the site will be moved to a new location to be determined, Chancellor Bacow said.

The exterior of the building will allow views into the pool and into the health fitness areas. A large wall of glass will enclose the multiactivity court and the squash courts.

The glass will be a type that will appear opaque during the day, but will allow some view into the interior at night, and it will offer a wall of glowing light to that part of campus.

The design is by Roche & Dinkeloo and Sasaki Associates. Total project cost is $45 million.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 31, 2000.

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