Sumers solstice: New recreation center unveiled
The pristine walls embraced the sweet scent of sweat, students wandered with eyes of wonder, and there were plenty of raffle tickets to go around. After over four years of anticipation, the Gary M. Sumers Recreation Center opened its doors to the public Saturday.
When the calendar finally flipped to Oct. 29, students arrived in droves for the much-awaited inauguration. Hundreds lined up well before the clock hit 9 a.m., with the end of the line adjacent to the parking lot next to Francis Field.
The grand opening—coupled with an influx of visiting family members for Parent and Family Weekend, unseasonably warm weather and the excitement generated by the Washington University-Case Western Reserve University football showdown on Francis Field—created a celebratory atmosphere on the Danforth Campus.
“It was so crowded, and it was nice to see that many people excited about something—especially since sports aren’t a big thing at Wash. U.,” senior Rachel Schapiro said. “It was nice to see people excited about something other than academics, which was cool.”
Upon entering the Sumers Center, students were struck by the facility’s vastness and beauty.
“It just looks really, really nice, and when you walk in, it’s just so open,” freshman Ellen Liu said.
Months of construction led to high expectations among students. Somehow, Wash. U. may have beaten those expectations.
“It was much grander and newer than I expected it to be,” Schapiro said. “It’s weird to see a construction site for so long, and that’s just what you have in your mind of that area, and then to walk in and see it so polished and nice—I didn’t think there’d be that many machines in there either, so that was really cool to see.”
According to sophomore Mackenzie Phillips, the Sumers Center vaults Wash. U.’s athletic facilities into the upper tier of those across the nation.
“I think that if you compare it to other athletic facilities at [Southeastern Conference] schools or huge [Division I] schools, it’s not going to blow those facilities out of the water, but obviously, you can’t really expect that,” Phillips said. “I think it puts us at least on par with those schools, if not better just because of how new it is.”
The biggest hit may have been the recreational courts—or more specifically, the floor itself. The hardwood features stained silhouettes of three famous St. Louis landmarks: Brookings Hall, the Gateway Arch and the gate to Francis Field.
“I really think they did a good job of tying in Wash. U., and St. Louis, to the new facility,” sophomore Brent Katlan said.
Another addition is the Dark Room, a room on the Fitness Floor complete with 25 stationary bikes, black lights, high-quality acoustics and technology that allows bikers to view their health statistics during classes.
“The Dark Room looked really, really cool,” freshman Neal Bansal said. “All the tech that goes into it was really, really cool. It was awesome.”
The grand opening event was filled with nonstop activities for 12 hours. Bubble soccer in particular resulted in plenty of laughs—and some were content to just laugh, rather than to jump in and play.
“I’m kind of scared,” freshman Kristen Lau said. “It looks pretty aggressive.”
Phillips, who attended the dedication on Friday evening, said that after hearing from alumnus and trustee Gary Sumers—the building’s namesake—she understood Sumers’ motivation for committing $12 million to the project back in 2012.
“He just hopes that students will become more balanced with body, mind and soul,” Phillips said.
For the most part, the Sumers Center received overwhelmingly positive reviews in its first weekend of full-time action. One feature, however, got rather mixed reactions.
“The only thing that looked out of place, in my opinion, was the big spray-painted wall on the way back out,” Schapiro said. “I thought it was a really nice pop of color, and I appreciate color. I just felt like it was very last-minute, like someone was like, ‘We have to get some art in here,’ and they brought in some cans of spray paint…It wasn’t bad, it was just unexpected to see.”
A key notion driving the creation of the state-of-the-art facilities was the relationship between varsity and recreational athletics. Wash. U. hoped to allow its varsity athletes to train without obstruction, while also providing sufficient resources for its non-varsity athletes. As a current club tennis player who was on the varsity women’s tennis team last year, Phillips said the limited space was a problem.
“We were just in there all the time, especially in the weight room—which is fine, but it’s made out of concrete walls and…it’s just not really up to date,” Phillips said. “We ran into this problem of having an overcrowded weight room a lot of times, because people want to go at the same time, more or less. And that was just a pain, so I think the space will be really nice.”
Still, the old Athletic Complex, of course, remains a part of the University’s rich athletic history—and its future moving forward.
“I like that [the Sumers Center is] also connected to the old AC, so that part’s not really forgotten,” Phillips said. “You kind of have the history, but you also have the nicer facilities.”
Phillips also pointed out that the Sumers Center is one size fits all. It’s more than just an athletic building—it truly has something for everyone.
“Not only do you have a gym, free weights and machines…but you also have like three or four individual rooms for suspense training or aerobics classes or cycling classes, as well as just little nooks and crannies where kids can go hang out,” Phillips said. “If you don’t want to exercise but just want to get away from the hustle and bustle of campus while remaining on campus, you can just go and hang out in one of those little corners.”
At the end of the day, the Sumers Center was designed to encourage healthier lifestyles by promoting increased physical activity. Despite Saturday’s large turnout, the new complex can only serve its purpose if its amenities help retain participants in recreational athletics—and students think it will.
“I think the general excitement of having a new Athletic Complex will really get more people interested in fitness and activity,” Katlan said.
In fact, for many students who hadn’t typically used the incumbent fitness spaces on campus—the old Athletic Complex and the South 40 Fitness Center—the Sumers Center is reason alone to engage in physical activities.
“I guess it kind of means I don’t have excuses for not working out anymore,” Schapiro said.