Small Campus, Big Fun
Harold Alfond Athletic Center at Thomas College
Set in rural Waterville, Maine, along the Kennebec River, Thomas College is a small, thriving co-ed career-training institution. But until October 2006, it didn't have a comprehensive facility to suit its student body's athletic and recreational needs.
Enter the Harold Alfond Foundation, a philanthropic organization of shoe mogul and former Waterville resident Harold Alfond.
In 2005, the foundation gave the college $1.25 million—the largest gift ever received by the school—for the construction of a $4.6 million athletic center. Remaining funding came from trustees, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the college, and plans quickly kicked into high gear.
"Goals for the project centered on designing a space where intramural and student life activities could happen simultaneously," said Catherine Taylor, an architect with Orcutt Associates, the firm from Yarmouth, Maine, that took on the project, which, at a mere $130 per square foot, would be quite a challenge.
To meet these budget and programming requirements, the shell of the building was designed around a pre-engineered structure with brick masonry and architectural metal panels above the masonry to complement nearby buildings on campus. At the main entrance, a high roof line allows a continuous view from the lobby to the fieldhouse.
"There is a great feeling of excitement as you enter the building, as you can see this beehive of activity," Taylor said.
Situated next to a new three-story residence hall that opened in 2003, the new structures together enjoy a high degree of visibility from the main road and as you drive onto campus.
In the 36,313-square-foot building, divider and perimeter netting allows the three-lane running track to be open for use even during team practices. In the center of the track are three multipurpose sports courts that meet NCAA guidelines for tennis, an important activity on campus.
"Previously, we had a tennis team, but no recreational space to play tennis," said Beth Gibbs, vice president of financial affairs at the college. Expanding their use, the courts are also striped for basketball and volleyball.
Other major components of the center include a batting cage; lacrosse ball wall; multipurpose room with wooden floor for dance, kickboxing, yoga, aerobics and other activities; and a fitness center, used both by athletes and by students who simply want a place to work out. Plus, the lounge areas are a popular spot for non-athletic social events, and the college plans to hold commencement events in the fieldhouse, Taylor said.
A highlight for the design is, literally, lighting. A large skylight creates a bright space for the student lounge and reception area in the lobby.
"The facility has a lot of natural light throughout the building," Gibbs remarked. "The building feels a lot larger than it is, simply because of the number of windows, glass doors and skylights that make the building feel very open."
The athletic center has added new energy to this small but growing campus, and students have certainly expressed their satisfaction.
"The facility is used virtually round the clock—and would be if it were staffed," Taylor said.
What started as a gift from a foundation is now a gift to the students.