The Future of NEC Athletics
Every day on New England College’s Henniker campus, student-athletes can be spotted just about everywhere you look. They’re wearing their Pilgrims gear to classes or meals in Gilmore Dining Hall. They’re heading to or from NEC’s athletic facilities. They’re talking about sports, in that moment when you catch part of their conversation with each other. You cannot help but notice NEC’s abundant student-athlete population. Approximately 40 percent of NEC’s students play at least one varsity sport, and that number increases to roughly 50 percent when adding in club sport participation.
To better support these athletes, as well as to promote health and fitness for everyone in the NEC community and to elevate NEC in NCAA Division III athletics, NEC is moving closer to embarking on the next project in the Henniker campus master plan: a new state-of-the-art athletics complex.
Building upon NEC’s existing facilities, the new complex will serve all of NEC. “The best part about this project is that it absolutely enhances what this department can do for NEC athletics,” comments Dave DeCew, Director of Athletics. “But it is truly a project for the school,” Plans include a larger gym that allows for hosting tournaments; improved locker rooms; and a modern fitness center open to all students, faculty, and staff. These improvements, he feels, will play a pivotal role in taking NEC to the next level. “The new complex could really help us in Athletics attract that next-level athlete or the Admissions team attract that next-level student. When I think about the entire school, this is exactly what we need so that we can add more value for those looking to attend NEC.”
Just the idea of that added value brings excitement to DeCew. As he notes, the most recent significant addition to NEC’s athletic facilities was the Don Melander Turf Field 11 years ago. In the years since, NEC has worked to improve the existing facilities through smaller modifications and Athletic Department branding, but a whole new building has been a long time in the making. “It will look nice on the outside because everyone has been cognizant of this building blending in with the campus’s existing design. But when people step inside, I think they will be truly impressed by the state-of-the-art design.”
The complex’s initial design came to NEC courtesy of Scott Simpson, an award-winning architect and member of NEC’s board of trustees. This combination of his 40 years of architectural experience and close relationship to NEC inspired him to help the College execute a high-quality project at a modest cost. Part of his cost-saving design incorporates prefabricated steel buildings, which match the aesthetic of both the Field House and the Lee Clement Ice Arena and allow for significant construction savings. “This approach is much less expensive than conventional construction and enables NEC to get very high value for its money. Good planning and design are essential to the College’s mission, and I was happy to be able to contribute to that,” Simpson says.
Simpson’s cost-saving measures became more important over the last 18 months, as material costs have risen. With an original projected construction cost of $15 million, NEC is now looking at a price tag closer to $20 million. DeCew explains that the plan has been modified to complete construction in phases in order to make these increased costs more manageable. Phase 1 will be a new building that includes a new 1,200-seat gymnasium (compared to the 300 seats in the current Bridges Gymnasium), new team locker rooms, and modern fitness center. When Phase 1 is complete, it will become the new home of NEC’s basketball and volleyball teams. Bridges will then be dedicated to wrestling and intramural sports. Phase 2 will feature consolidated office space for the Athletic Department staff, and Phase 3 will connect the new structures with NEC’s current facilities. “When we get ready to think about Phases 2 and 3,” DeCew says, “the hope is to include a common area where all students can come and hang out, study, or have a snack.” Simpson adds that the complex will also boast a large entry lobby that will “serve as the gateway to the entire complex.”
The athletic complex will be adjacent to Bridges Gym and West Hall. Simpson’s initial design has been handed off to partner architectural firm DSK | Dewing Schmid Kearns, where Tom Kearns is in the process of finalizing the schematic design before construction begins. “New England College has a beautiful campus in Henniker with many memorable moments,” states Kearns. “The site for the new athletic complex frames the main quadrangle and is located along the Contoocook River. This project will add exciting new program spaces, contribute to NEC’s iconic architecture, and activate the heart of the main campus.” The team of NEC, Simpson, DSK, and Harvey Construction worked together on both the Rosamond Page Putnam Center for the Performing Arts and the John Lyons building, so this is, as Simpson says, “a smoothly running team.”
This team looks to break ground in the spring when NEC hopes sufficient funding will be available. According to DeCew, the cost of Phase 1 is expected to be $7.5 million to $9 million. He also knows that Dr. Michele Perkins, President of NEC, hopes to have the cost of Phase 1 covered by gifts so the College will not have to take out a loan for construction. “The initial planning is complete, and the site has been surveyed. These steps have been taken to put the College in a position to move forward once the remaining funds are secured.”
In the meantime, you will find DeCew looking forward to everything the new athletic complex will mean for current students, athletes and non-athletes alike, and prospective students looking for their place to belong.
Above and Beyond
Jeff Towle P’99, and current trustee, made a $500,000 commitment to the athletics complex initiative in August. His marks the fifth leadership gift to the project and the second one this year. Overall gifts and pledges to the project exceed $8.5 million against a working goal of $18 million.
The generous gift from Jeff gets NEC closer to beginning construction on Phase 1 of the project. Jeff recognizes the critical importance of enhancing our athletic facilities in order to help attract and retain student-athletes, maintain our level of competitive play on the field, and further enhance our beautiful campus in Henniker. Jeff and his family are steadfastly devoted to NEC and the Henniker community, and his gift is a tangible demonstration of his dedication.