MIDDLEBURY — The first stage of a big construction project at the Middlebury College athletic facilities is nearing completion as work on a major new component of the complex continues apace.
The new 17,800-square-foot squash facility behind Kenyon Arena should be finished by October, before the start of the college squash season. The expanding construction site on the Route 30 side of the Peterson Family Athletic Facility is being readied for a new 110,000-square-foot field house, due to be completed in October 2014.
Officials say the expanded facilities will allow Middlebury College to host more and bigger athletic events that will not only serve student athletes and other students, but also bring more people to local hotels and restaurants during those events.
“We’ll see the benefits of more teams coming to town, and internally for us, track and squash athletes and coaches can spend more weekends at home,” said Middlebury Director of Athletics Erin Quinn.
More sporting events also translate directly into business for local hotels, restaurants and shops, Quinn noted.
“We have good relationships with hotels in town, and sports events tend to keep beds filled,” he said.
The landscape on the southern edge of the Middlebury College campus was changed dramatically in June when the Bubble, a 40,000-square-foot inflated athletic facility was deflated, and crews from PC Construction of South Burlington moved in to dig up the site. The estimated cost of the entire project is $46 million, all raised from alumni, parents and other donors.
The new squash center boasts nine courts, compared to five in the Bubble, plus it will offer improved lighting and ventilation, better viewing for spectators, and better locker rooms. With more courts, the Panther squash teams will be able to host more home games. With its skylights over the central corridor and windows facing the Green Mountains, the squash facility will be filled with natural light.
The field house, more than double the size of the Bubble, will house a six-lane, 200-meter indoor track; plus areas for high jump, long jump, pole vault and throwing events. It will also have an eight-lane, 60-meter straightaway for sprints. The old track was 180 meters. With that new regulation-length track, Middlebury will be able to host meets that could bring teams from all over the East Coast to Addison County.
The as-yet-unnamed field house, designed by Sasaki Associates of Watertown, Mass., also will include locker rooms, coaches’ offices, meeting spaces and classrooms, all in a more energy-efficient package. Passersby will note a vast wall of windows on the west wall (Route 30 side of the building), which will bring natural light into the space and allow visitors to see inside.
Since the field house won’t be completed for more than a year, the track and field teams — plus the baseball, softball and other teams that require an indoor space — will be “making do” without a solid facility this season, Quinn said.
An entire indoor track and field season without a facility is a challenge that the college had anticipated for over a decade. Back in 2000, the roof of the old Fletcher Field House failed, leading to the construction of the Bubble as a temporary solution designed to last a decade or so.
“At the time, given that we had just finished a number of construction projects here in athletics, including the Natatorium and Kenyon Arena, we understood that it wasn’t the right time to start the field house project,” Quinn recalled.
Quinn said there was simply no way to remove the Bubble and build a replacement field house structure in less than a year.
“There is no magical answer,” Quinn said.
But the college has made some provisions for the coming year without a field house, adding batting cages in the indoor tennis courts for baseball and softball. Also, Quinn said he had noticed many in need of a “track-like” fix running around the hockey rink. Distance runners, he said, would try simply to get outside as much as possible.
Those teams will have a state-of-the-art facility to look forward to in 2014 and fewer weekends on the road with the college able to host tournaments and other multi-team competitions, Quinn said.
The new field house renovation will also benefit areas other than sports.
“It remains to be seen how the college will utilize the space but if we were to host concerts on campus, it will certainly be a place that can host many more people than what we have been able to do before,” Quinn said of the 75,000 square feet of open floor space in the new field house, which could be lined with 7,000 temporary seats. That makes it the largest event space on campus.
Included in the $46 million price tag are landscaping and re-grading to the area on Route 30 that serves as the entrance route to Middlebury College for vehicles coming from New York.
“If you think about coming into Middlebury on Route 30 from the New York side … up until this project the first thing you saw was a parking lot and a bubble,” Quinn said.
The parking area, Quinn said, will be moved to the side of the building out of direct view. The roadside view of the building, he added, would be redesigned to look “phenomenally attractive.”
“Right now we are being very mindful about the opportunity to clean up the front door of the college,” he said.