By 6 a.m. on Oct. 4, a group clad in t-shirts and shorts had already gathered outside the former Saunders Hall of Chemistry. As soon as the doors opened, the whir of exercise bikes and the rhythm of treadmills replaced the clatter of construction equipment that had been sounding for the past nine months. The new Charlean and Wayland Blood Fitness and Dance Center was finally open.
By 8:30 that morning, 80 people had used the facility -- after its third day, more than 1,500 had come for a workout. "And the best part was how easily and comfortably they were all accommodated," said Dave Thompson, director of wellness programs.
The state-of-the-art facility, named for Charlean and Wayland F. "Bill" Blood '53, triples the previous space for fitness activities on a campus where approximately 75 percent of the student body -- and many members of the faculty and staff -- work out regularly. Included in the building is a large, glass-enclosed aerobic/cardio training area that overlooks Steuben Field, two rooms for resistance and weight-training, a three-story climbing wall, a dance studio and a multipurpose room. Spinning classes are held on a row of bikes located on the second level cardio mezzanine overlooking the main aerobic/cardio area.
"This facility puts Hamilton at the top of our class not only in terms of fitness equipment and square footage, but also for its character," Thompson noted. "The blend of the original stone with the new large glass windows overlooking the football field is unique and superior to anything I've seen at other colleges. And where else can you be on a treadmill watching people climbing three stories right next to you?"
Certainly one of the most eye-catching features of the building is the 40-foot rock-climbing wall that beckons not only those interested in staying physically fit, but also those with a sense of adventure.
Sarah Weis, assistant director of outdoor leadership, manages the new indoor wall as well as Hamilton's outdoor high and low ropes courses. She estimates that each day about 55 people, mostly first-time climbers, stop by to test their skill. "We offer instruction and have all the equipment they need right here," Weis said. "It's a great opportunity to introduce students to the sport of rock-climbing."
Twelve color-coded routes indicate various levels of difficulty. The wall is large enough to accommodate various techniques from "bouldering" (side-to-side climbing at a maximum height of 10-feet) to advancing up to the top with the security of a harness and rope held by a trained student belaying from below.
"What's unique about this wall is its sand and fiberglass composition," Weis added. "It has the look and feel of real rock with built-in cracks and ledges for hand and foot holds."
While ascending three-stories above the ground requires a certain amount of finesse, the fitness center also caters to those whose interests combine grace, athleticism and academic study. The new dance studio, which replaces the former space located on the top floor of Kirkland Residence Hall, serves as a venue for dance classes, senior project presentations and choreographers' showcase events.
According to Bruce Walczyk, associate professor of dance, the space can be transformed in about 10 minutes from working studio to a performance space. "In the first weekend after it opened, we learned just how flexible and adaptable the studio is," he said, noting that once the curtains are pulled, the room becomes a small theatre complete with lighting, a sound system and pull-out seating that can accommodate an audience of 50.
"We now have a space for impromptu performances," Walczyk, added. "If, for instance, alumni pop back for the weekend and are interested in sharing their talents, we can pull together a performance pretty quickly."
Thompson estimates that the Blood Fitness and Dance Center currently accommodates about 400 students a day, but he expects that number to increase as the winter months approach. Already the multipurpose room has hosted classes in yoga, cardiokick, Pilates, aerobics and toning. This room also will serve as practice space for the fencing club, dance team and other groups that previously were relegated to a corner of the field house or vacant squash courts.
Another benefit of the added fitness space -- 30,760 gross sq. ft. in all -- is the opportunity to offer an expanded wellness program that will soon offer lecture series on such topics as nutrition, smoking cessation and weight management. A strength coach and a personal trainer will be on hand to offer professional advice.
In addition to Thompson's office, the center, which links to the Alumni Gymnasium via an underground tunnel, provides space for the coaching staffs of men's and women's soccer, women's lacrosse and women's basketball, as well as sports information.
Although the new fitness center is geared toward meeting the fitness needs of all members of the community, varsity athletes, in particular, are taking advantage of a new, modern sports medicine/training clinic housed in the space once occupied by the former Ade Fitness Center, off the main entrance to the field house. The facility is triple the size of the old training room, which was located in the basement of the Alumni Gymnasium.
Thompson and Weis both are pleased that the Blood Fitness and Dance Center has already realized one of its goals -- to provide a welcoming, comfortable place that combines social, fitness and outdoor recreational components. "It's fun to be here. Students are happy and you can see that on their faces. That's great to see," Thompson added.