Helen Newman Hall, built in 1963 when North Campus was much smaller than it is today, is struggling to keep up with increasing demand. As the general economy begins to emerge from a recession and the University’s finances begin to improve, Helen Newman may be one of the first beneficiaries of resumed new planning and construction.
According to Andrea Dutcher ’87, Helen Newman director and director of recreational services, many of the current facilities are showing their age. For example, a fireplace in the fitness center dates from when the room was a lounge. The lanes in the swimming pool, which are 18 inches narrower than today’s standard width, were installed decades ago.
About two-thirds of freshmen have fitness memberships, Dutcher said, and most spend their time at Helen Newman or the smaller Friedman Conditioning Center at Appel Commons.
Some parts of Helen Newman have difficulty accommodating the increasing demand. There are only two full-size basketball courts and one pool.
“We need a bigger pool because of popular use ... it can’t handle capacity,” Andy Wagner ’14 said.
Susan Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services, said the building’s spaces are “inadequate” and, although some minor improvements have been made over the years, “[Helen Newman] needs an overhaul.”
According to Dutcher, consultants were hired nearly 10 years ago to create an overarching plan that included housing the entire freshman class on North Campus. At that time, architectural drawings were made for possible renovations to Helen Newman — in conjunction with the Cornell Victorious Campaign for Athletics, a fundraising campaign — but the renovations were never carried out.
The original renovation plans, which were completed in 2001, included a fitness center expansion, new offices, game lounge and conference room, a new pool and new locker rooms.
Once the new North Campus dorms were constructed, Helen Newman became “basically completely overwhelmed,” Dutcher said.
“If you go [to Helen Newman] and it’s not during peak hours it’s fine, but I think it can get really crowded,” Frankie Gonzalez ’14 said.
Administrators began considering whether to renovate or rebuild the fitness center. Although Helen Newman has a “stunning location,” Dutcher said, it may be more cost-effective to demolish it and construct a new building than to renovate the current structure.
“We would love … to take over this lot [below Robert Purcell Community Center] and put in a beautiful three-story recreation center,” Dutcher said. She conceded, however, that this new construction is unlikely to occur in the near future.
When the University’s finances were hurt in 2008, non-essential construction mostly stopped. Murphy said that a decision to put more University resources into financial aid has limited discussions of building improvements.
However, Murphy also said it is important to have adequate recreational opportunities and a change to Helen Newman “remains a priority.”
Dutcher agreed that the building has an “abysmal” amount of fitness space.
“We’re trying to keep it up … as best we can,” Dutcher said.
Max Schindler contributed to this report.