PDS Athletic Center Construction Update:
Versatile New Complex Aims to Score Big
By Linda Maxwell Stefanelli '62
This is a feature article that appeared in this Fall's issue of the Journal magazine. To see the entire Fall Journal, click here.
The best way to experience school spirit at Princeton Day School is to be on campus for Blue & White Day in May. Every student, faculty and staff member turns out to passionately defend their blue or white team in a field day competition that includes relay races, tug-of-war and three-legged races. Although the tradition of assigning students a color for athletic and academic honors stretches back to Miss Fine's and Princeton Country Day schools, this year the focus was definitely on the future. Before the May 10 field events, the entire school community gathered to break ground for construction of a 30,000-plus-square-foot LEED-certified athletic center that will adjoin the Lisa McGraw '44 Rink. The new center is designed to benefit virtually every facet of the school and extend its extraordinary athletic legacy.
Shovel in hand, Head of School Paul Stellato addressed the gathering to say, "I think it's especially fitting that we're breaking ground on this building on Blue & White Day because there is no day during the year that is more representative of Princeton Day School. It's a celebration in which our entire PreKindergarten through Grade 12 community comes together. I look forward to having many more opportunities to do that in this space in the years to come."
Architectural rendering of the view of the athletic center field house and multi-purpose courts
Official Opening Slated for September 2020
The athletic center is scheduled for completion in less than a year and plans are underway for the official opening in September 2020. It will contain four international squash courts with viewing areas, a field house with two multi-purpose courts, and a spacious commons adjacent to the rink from which spectators can see the surrounding sports facilities in action. Moreover, PDS finally will have a place to assemble the entire School and their guests for assemblies, recognitions and celebrations.
"PDS has such a strong sense of community. I think it defines the school," Mr. Stellato says. "By building an athletic center we can create something that serves athletics and the needs of the whole school. The Gosnell Room was a gathering place for students to hang out during the winter; they'd watch the skating, do their homework, order a pizza. This space will greatly expand those opportunities."
A priority for planners was to create a facility that would reflect the high quality of the athletic program and accommodate its growth. Athletics have always been popular at PDS; last year, 95% of Middle School and 70% of Upper School students played on interscholastic teams, with a total of 73 team levels across 22 different sports, overseen by 125 coaches.
Squashed No More
Squash is the sport that will feel the greatest impact—it will be played on campus for the first time ever. It began as a club team over 40 years ago and has grown to varsity status under Coach Dede Shipway Webster '62. Practices were held at the University's Dillon Gym before moving to the two courts at Pretty Brook Tennis Club. In spite of difficult schedules, having to slog through cold and snow to practice and compete without the support of home crowds, players never complained and many have gone on to play at Division I and other highly competitive colleges.
"Those who play, really love it," says Ms. Webster. "My guess is that when PDS gets its own courts, the PDS community is going to go wild for the game. For the kids, it's going to be tremendous. You need the facility to up the skill level; increased court time will enable our athletes to compete more effectively. In addition, it will ultimately allow for separate boys and girls squash teams."
Having four international squash courts will not only allow for more players but will introduce the sport to those who have never seen it. "It's going to be a wonderful asset for PDS," Ms. Webster continues. "I think our students are the kind who will be intrigued by it; it's a very cerebral, mathematical kind of game. I think it will appeal to our students in that you don't have to be big and brawny; in fact, that doesn't help you out there in such a small space."
Middle School Coach Matt Trowbridge '98 agrees. "We have great momentum in squash right now. Interest keeps building and players get hooked on it quickly. Once we have our own courts, we can continue to grow and add to our program, keep and develop players who may have been cut in previous seasons, and become the squash powerhouse we ought to be!"
"I was introduced to squash when I was around 10 years old," says eighth grader Maryam Mian, one of the few girls on the Middle School team. "I've loved it since the beginning because it's competitive and fast paced and pushes me to work hard to improve. Being on the PDS team has taught me a lot and I'm especially excited about the new athletic facilities, which will give our team a shot at being one of the best in the country. PDS is giving us an opportunity to learn not only about a great sport, but also a lot about ourselves."
The new roof of the athletic center visible during the recent student/faculty soccer game
Flexible Indoor Options Ease Scheduling
The new center will also include multi-purpose courts designed for versatility and equipped with synthetic flooring, which has several advantages over hardwood. The area can be partitioned and retractable batting cages for baseball and softball can be lowered from the rafters. Although the courts will house winter sports like basketball and fencing, they will also provide desperately needed space for fall and spring sports to practice during bad weather and offer an additional location for physical education classes.
"The multi-purpose courts will enable us to put two classes together and have large-group activities in a much better environment," says Mark Adams, Physical Education Department Chair and longtime coach.
Arranging games and practices will be much easier and will eliminate the need to adjust the academic schedule to accommodate athletics. Presently, winter teams have to stagger practices and rarely get in a full two-hour session even though some practices run until 7:30pm.
"Our goal is to get our kids home earlier," says Director of Upper School Athletics Tim Williams. "And more people will be able to watch winter sports because games can start earlier. The flexibility it's going to give us is going to be great. That's something we've needed for a long time."
In addition, the field house will have a proposed seating capacity of 1,600 and will be equipped with a 24- by 30-foot pull-down projection screen and a top-quality sound system. "The sound quality is going to be much better than in the majority of field houses today," says Ron Tola, PDS Director of Major Projects.
The athletic center will also include an enlarged concession stand, changing rooms and offices. Fiber optic cable will connect it to the main campus so the whole campus can share the same communications system. Getting to the new facility will also be easier and safer. The walkway from the main campus has been regraded, widened and an attractive guard rail and safety lighting have been installed along the driveway. Another major impact of the new space: once the athletic center is complete, the Dean Mathey Lower Gym will be transformed into a performing arts center with facilities to support programs and performance in theater as well as vocal and instrumental music.
Considerable Construction Planning and Expertise
V.J. Scozzari & Sons, Inc. began construction on June 24 and progress since then has been dramatic. Although the rink itself will remain untouched, slated demolition has occurred on everything on the far side of the viewing wall. Project Superintendent Bert Decowski explains, "We started on the inside, rearranging some of the locker rooms to get them ready for the season. Since we were demolishing a lot of that area, we had to create new spaces for them. Then we put up a temporary wall and waterproofed it to protect the rink during construction."
The new building is designed to adjoin the rink and the squash courts will extend west into the parking lot. (New parking spaces will make up for those lost.) The multi-purpose courts will be located along the north side beyond the line of windows that give the rink its unique appeal, and a new entrance will face the school on the south side.
"What's interesting is that half of it is a pre-engineered metal building and half is made of traditional structured steel," Mr. Tola says. "It's unique in that these structures will be completely tied together rather than independent. Pre-engineered steel is often used in sports facilities because it economically allows for a completely open floor space."
Before footings could be sunk, contractors had to address the issue of water retention in the wooded area behind the rink. They removed the soil and replaced it with a solid base of fill. The large quantities of fill had the advantage of raising the addition to the desired height and avoiding the need to dig a foundation through dense deposits of shale.
The recently poured floor of the athletic center
Achieving Aesthetic and Environmental Goals
Architects made a conscious effort to make the athletic center compatible with its surroundings and not overwhelm them. The complex is designed to reflect the school's architecture with stone and masonry elements, skylights and large windows and is being built to meet the stringent requirements for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. To that end, solar panels will be installed along the south side of the building and a multitude of skylights will reduce the need for electricity. Rainwater will be diverted to a new garden area and there will even be two vehicle charging stations available.
"The goal is to create a sustainable building so that as we're constructing and operating the building, we're not causing harm to the environment," says Scozzari Project Manager Sean Skeehan, a 2001 PDS alumnus.
"It's been a real collaborative effort by a large number of dedicated, caring, professional people, both within and outside the PDS community," Mr. Tola observes. "There are things that could have set the project off, both with construction costs and schedule, that have been overcome. Everyone worked together to make this possible."
"I think we landed on the right mix for PDS," says Trustee Marc Brahaney, who chairs the Buildings and Grounds Committee. "This complex gives us excellent, much-needed athletic spaces but then goes beyond function and creates this wonderful opportunity for enhancing our sense of community."
Project Manager Sean Skeehan '01 and Project Superintendent Bert Decowski
To keep an eye on progress, tune into the live-feed camera of the construction site and watch for news updates on the pds.org homepage.