While schools wrestled with how to build a new athletic facility in the middle of a recession, Tufts University’s Athletics and Operations Departments worked with a Massachusetts-based developer called Stanmar Inc. to devise a creative solution to designing, building and financing a new sports and fitness center in just under 24 months.
In an education environment that is experiencing rising operational costs, colleges and universities are faced with the dilemma of how to make quality infrastructure improvements while keeping costs down. The collaboration of many departments at Tufts enabled the team to develop an attractive, much-needed building. Tufts was able to present not only an idea to potential donors, including Tufts alumnus Steve Tisch, co-owner of the New York Giants–but also full plans and a fixed price budget, which was appealing to many of them. Tisch spearheaded the effort for the new $16 million facility that included a $3 million challenge to inspire other alumni and friends to contribute. Tufts’ success with its new Sports and Fitness Center offers an innovative model for getting collegiate infrastructure projects off the drawing board and into the ground.
With more than 40 years of experience in the athletic and recreation facility construction business, Stanmar Inc.’s success has reflected a burgeoning trend in higher education. Sports programs and athletic and fitness facilities represent far more than just ancillary amenities to prospective and current students, parents, alumni and employees. While maintaining a rigorous and rewarding academic program is essential to college recruitment and retention, quality athletic, fitness and recreation facilities also contribute to a college’s ability to attract top students to apply and graduates to donate. When students and parents are deciding between colleges with comparable academic programs, the tiebreaker sometimes can be which college has superior sports teams, athletic facilities and recreation and fitness programs.
The Steve Tisch Sports and Fitness Center, dedicated in October 2012, serves to enhance the quality of life of students and student-athletes, faculty, staff and other university constituents. The sports and fitness center features fitness and multipurpose studios serving the entire campus community. A three-story open atrium creates a communal entrance space that makes navigating the facility easy by offering views into various activity spaces. Additional amenities for athletes and staff include team rooms, sports medicine suites, classrooms, offices and well-equipped film and conference rooms. It also ties together three older facilities and creates a focal point entrance to the campus. The architectural firm DiMella Shaffer directed the exterior campus architecture for creating an aesthetic and efficient look to blend the architecture of the three existing and adjacent buildings.
The final hurdle for the project was implementing the plan to not only build the facility to the school’s specifications, but also meet the non-negotiable requirement of staying on budget. Stanmar’s single-source responsibility, design and construction delivery model—which combines planning, design and construction under one roof, based on an established budget—was crucial for effectively managing costs from start to finish. The company’s model and track record are based on its upfront fixed price commitment—a reassurance that building costs will be kept in check.
“We faced a serious challenge in meeting client expectations for its fitness center, while ensuring the project was completed on time and budget,” said Stanmar President Mark Snider. “We took every measure to mitigate costs without sacrificing quality and were successful in developing the facility for less than our original cost estimate.”
An example of savvy cost reduction by the team was the use of vacant space in an adjacent building that was being used for storage only. The space was repurposed to house the Athletic Department’s director and staff offices. Making the decision to take advantage of this space enabled Tufts to reduce the size of the new building by approximately 6,000 square feet and effectively lower costs. This strategy helped save a significant amount of money on the project.
The center was designed to be source of pride for the university, with student athletes, their classmates, parents, alumni and employees alike helping strengthen the Tufts community for both on and off-campus students and faculty. Much of the building is available to all students, and it consolidates facilities that were previously spread throughout campus, to create a vibrant focal point that enhances student quality of life. Athletics Director Bill Gehling affirmed the impact that the new facility is having on prospective students who visit the campus and scrutinize the school’s features.
“You never get another chance to make a first impression, and the first impression from a facilities standpoint for years was that athletics wasn’t important,” he said. “[This] facility has finally caught up to the message: the importance of health and fitness to Tufts.”
Top minds in higher education have also started to recognize the considerable value that exceptional athletic facilities has on colleges.
Former Tufts dean and professor Robert J. Sternberg, now senior vice president and provost of Oklahoma State University, wrote a piece for the National Association of College and University Business Officers promoting the value of fully integrating athletics programs into college development plans, specifically citing admissions and fundraising efforts as a core beneficiaries. “Students who do [participate in athletics] want good facilities. They want regulation-size fields, courts and swimming pools. They want attractive locker rooms and up-to-date exercise facilities. Providing such facilities also helps recruit students to the institution.”
The world of higher education no longer revolves around academic opportunities for students, but also around the quality of campus life, including athletic facilities and sports and fitness programs. Colleges and universities should look to effective development partners to craft an achievable budget and activate their plans to make their schools more attractive to students, athletes and donors.
Jim Wakely is executive vice president of Stanmar Inc., a specialist in athletic planning, design and construction of athletic, sports, and recreational facilities exclusively for private colleges, universities and independent secondary schools.