Bard’s expanded athletic center hoping to boost sports profile

Bard College’s Stevenson Gymnasium is now called the Stevenson Athletic Center, but the facility’s changes go far beyond a simple change in name.

The college expanded the facility by 10,000 square feet, adding a new air-conditioned wing with a weight room, four squash courts, administrative offices, and multipurpose rooms used for fencing, aerobics and yoga. The setup in the original gymnasium building has been rearranged as well, with new exercise equipment in a new space.

The Stevenson Gymnasium was built in 1989, when the college’s population was about 800 students. But with the facility now available to the 2,000 students, faculty members, and more than 200 community members who purchase memberships, it became clear that expansion was crucial.

The project, which began last year and was finished in July, was funded by a $2.1 million donation from the facility’s namesake, Charles P. Stevenson Jr., who is chair of the Bard College Board of Trustees, as well as two anonymous donors.

The athletic center now features a “25-yard, six-lane swimming pool, fitness center, locker rooms, classrooms, cycling spin room, and 12,500 square feet of gymnasium space that includes basketball and volleyball courts, fencing strips, badminton courts, and seating for 700 spectators,” according to its website.

The four new squash courts, which replaced three that were only usable for practice games because of changes in league regulations, are “the best squash courts you can buy,” according to Jim Sheahan, the college’s Sports Information Director.

The new exercise area, three times the size it used to be, boasts all new machines; treadmills and elliptical machines with individual television sets make the space a major draw for students. The former space, Sheahan said, “was like a fitness museum, some of the equipment was so old.”

All the changes are part of a larger effort to expand the Bard athletic program, which switched from the Skyline Conference to the Liberty League last year in an effort to compete against students who, Sheahan said, were “more of a match” for Bard students.

“This led to commitment to improving our athletic program,” he said. The college also added four new varsity sports last year: men’s and women’s swimming, men’s lacrosse, and men’s basketball. Bard now competes in 18 varsity sports and five club sports.

Though the athletic center was built with Bard students in mind, residents of the local communities can use it as well. A variety of options, ranging from $10 for an individual visit to $525 for a 12-month membership, are available. According to Administrative Assistant Jamie Hooper, 12- and 24-visit punch cards — $4.75 per visit for an individual, $6.90 per visit for a family — are the most popular option because they work for busy families with unpredictable schedules.

The college and surrounding towns have a reciprocal relationship when it comes to sports—for example, the Bard rugby teams play their games on Red Hook High School’s field, and the annual soccer game between Red Hook High School and Rhinebeck High School is played on Bard’s Lorenzo Ferrari Soccer Complex.

“Our relationship with Red Hook is important,” Sheahan said.

The changes to the facility have been met with positive feedback from community members and students alike, said Sheahan, and more changes are in store in the near future. Bard plans on building new bleachers, adding a sound system in the basketball court, and installing improved timing equipment in the pool. Officials hope these alterations will help attract more spectators to games as the athletic program grows in strength.

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