PLATTSBURGH — The director of the SUNY Plattsburgh Fitness Center sees the center and Memorial Hall — near completion on a $30 million renovation — as a multifaceted interface between student life, mental health, wellness and fitness.
Matt Salvatore, who’s been with the college nearly 30 years, said, “There’s been so much focus on mental health since the pandemic, and rightly so. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that mental health is inextricably tied to physical health.
“The objective of the Fitness Center program is to provide the highest quality student life experience we can by effectively addressing the fitness, health, and wellness needs of the campus community. The renovation and expansion of our facilities along with the addition of all new exercise equipment and machinery will certainly help us accomplish this,” he said.
The fitness center renovation is part of an overall overhaul of Memorial Hall, a 63-year-old building that served its purpose but now needed to be brought up to the 21st century, according to Director of Athletics Mike Howard.
“Memorial Hall had not received any significant upgrades in over 40 years, and although the facility continued to provide fitness opportunities, it was well behind the times in being able to meet the needs of our current students as well as our student-athletes,” Howard said.
“We’re very excited by the design and how it’s coming along,” he said. “It’s a neat fit in terms of space and what we had to work with. We’re retrofitting a 60-plus-year-old building that has to take into consideration sports medicine, the fitness center, the competition gym, recreation gym, student-athlete strengthening and conditioning.”
And while there may be a misconception that the facility caters to student-athletes, Brian Savard, director of athletic communications, said, “Our general students benefit from this renovation the most.”
Gone are the athletes-only time slot in the mornings. Salvatore said the center had been open 100 hours a week pre-pandemic. Hours climbed to 80 a week post-pandemic, but Salvatore said he’d like to see it return to the 100-hours-per-week model.
“With this space created, there’s no need to carve out time for student-athletes,” he said.
Crews Working Throughout Building
Mid-July, work crews were busy in nearly every corner of the building, finishing the flooring in the main gym, working on bathrooms, day-use and team locker rooms, working in office space, lobby areas, and the massive area that will become the new fitness center. That space will more than double the size from what it had been and include a huge equipment area, studio, climbing wall, storage and offices in its 12,500 square feet. Salvatore said he hopes to open the new facility early spring 2024 semester.
Phase I of the two-phase project involved renovations on the third floor. Gone is the pool, taken out to create a recreation gym, with the space below that previously housed the pool’s mechanicals being turned into the Sports Performance Center, address student-athletes’ strength and conditioning needs, Savard said. Currently used as a temporary fitness center, it will convert to the strength and conditioning space by mid-August.
“The recreation gym, built where the pool once sat, was rolled out as part of Phase I. That’s been a big hit with the general student population,” Savard said. And although there was a public outcry when it was decided to take the pool out, “it was an important staple of the (North Country) community, we were finding the space was not meeting the needs of the student body that access to a gym would. It brings in a lot of students who otherwise would not be able to recreate.”
Another area that underutilized by students and faculty alike were the racquetball courts. The decision was made to decommission them in order to recoup some space, making the relocation of the climbing wall, now located behind the new reception desk in the fitness center, possible.
“The courts had very few users,” Salvatore said. “In fact, the courts were being repurposed for other things, including storage and spin class.”
He said a lot of thought went into the design of the climbing wall to build something that appeals to both beginners and expeditionary studies majors.
“We worked with Casey Henley (assistant professor in EXP) in designing the wall,” Salvatore said. “We’re trying to provide a balance; we want to appeal to students’ interest as well as that of faculty and staff,” who can pay $95 per semester for membership.
“We will have a bit of everything; we’ll not be lacking and will be able to address all fitness needs and interests,” Salvatore said.
Mindfulness Space Possible
With conversations being had to include space for mindfulness activities, the renovations, expected to be completed by the end of the spring 2024 semester, a whole package of mind and body.
“This project enabled us to expand recreational space for all of our students with the new recreation gym, expanded fitness center and updated, larger group activity spaces,” Howard said. “It will also provide some much needed improvements to our competition gymnasium as well as a new student-athlete strength and conditioning center both of which will be very well received by both our current athletes as well as prospective students.”
“Beyond the excitement of opening new facilities and the immediate impact we expect that to have, from a broader perspective, the new spaces and our programming will undoubtedly improve student recruitment and retention leading to a greater sense of belonging to the college community,” Salvatore said.
“We also expect the changes to appeal to the recruitment of student-athletes and the addition of new faculty and professionals to Plattsburgh. This is really a win-win across the board,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-generation investment by SUNY and SUNY Plattsburgh that will provide value for many years to come. I’m excited to be a part of the process.”