In March 2008, Worcester Polytechnic Institute requested a leadership gift from the Fred Harris Daniels Foundation: $300,000 to help fund a new Sports and Recreation Center. The Foundation’s namesake was a WPI alumnus (class of 1873), and the family and Foundation have strongly supported the Institute. One of the first donations to the $50 million effort, this gift signaled the project’s importance to not just WPI but also the Worcester community. The resulting facility enriches community life by promoting healthy lifestyles, instilling leadership and teamwork, attracting leaders to Worcester, and creating a sense of community pride for generations to come.
At the time of its request to the Daniels Foundation, the WPI community had long outgrown both the capacity and functionality of its outdated Alumni Gym. In 1916 when that facility was built, WPI enrolled 539 men, a number less than one-sixth of the current undergraduate enrollment. Club and intramural teams competed with varsity programs for small amounts of space; the pool was not adequate for competition; and burgeoning academic programs required larger demonstration space. A priority was upgrading fitness facilities for women. Forty years after their arrival on campus, WPI women were still using athletic and fitness facilities originally designed for men
Dedicated in 2012, the Sports and Recreation Center is now a 140,000 square foot recreational, educational, and environmentally friendly facility that has transformed the daily experience of the WPI community as well as the appearance of campus. Situated on a hillside, the Center presents a gleaming, multi-story façade to Worcester’s busy Park Avenue. On any given day, students may be competing in one of 18 varsity sports; participating in dozens of intramural and club activities; taking part in rigorous physical education courses; or keeping up their personal fitness routines. Faculty and staff make frequent use of the facility as well.
The Sports and Recreation Center is essential to attracting the best and brightest students to Worcester, many of whom stay after graduation and enrich the area with their intellectual talents, entrepreneurial spirit, and cultural contributions. The Center serves as the home for campus health and fitness, meaningful engagement, and personal development. The physical activities which take place there not only improve general welfare; they develop character, instill values of leadership and teamwork, underscore the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and contribute importantly to the growth and development of the whole person.
The interior features support physical activity at all levels of challenge. The Center contains a modern pool for swimming and diving competitions, a fitness center for cardio-fitness and free weight training, a four-court gymnasium, an indoor running track, dance studios, rowing tanks, racquetball and squash courts.
The Center also supports many non-athletic events that benefit both WPI and the larger Worcester community. These include career fairs that bring hundreds of corporate, business and government groups to campus each year; open houses to welcome prospective students and parents; science fairs showcasing the ideas of the next generation of leaders in science, engineering, and technology; robotics competitions; and campus celebrations that bring the community together with countless external partners, alumni, and friends. The availability of large spaces in the facility greatly increases WPI’s capacity to host major events that bring the world to Worcester.
Today, the Sports and Recreation Center strengthens the Institute’s standing as one of the finest science, engineering and technology universities in the nation, and as an anchor institution of Worcester. The Daniels Foundation leadership grant helped validate to other donors the purpose and scale of the project, thus leveraging additional donations which ultimately led to the creation of this beautiful facility.
Photos courtesy of Ivan Melnikov, Mike Sears, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute
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