Pomona announces plan for new $55 million athletic center

Pomona is spending $55 million to build a new athletic center. (Chloe Ortiz • The Student Life)

Pomona College announced last December that it will remodel and expand the 30-year-old Rains Center for Sport and Recreation, adding 15,000 square feet of space for recreational fitness, cardio workouts, fitness classes and more.

The $55 million construction project is slated to begin in 2020, and should be completed by December 2021, according to Pomona spokesperson Marylou Ferry. Ferry said the plan as of now is to keep the gym’s name the same.

Two principal gifts of $10 million each have already been received, Ferry wrote in an email to TSL. One donor is Pomona alumnus Ranney Draper, an active philanthropist who made the founding gift for Pomona’s Draper Center for Community Partnerships. The other donor asked to remain anonymous, Ferry wrote.

Pomona plans to pay for the rest of the new gym’s expenses by raising another $9 million and spending $26 million from Pomona’s future renovation and construction account, Ferry wrote.

Many athletes lauded the plan to replace and improve the old building, which is dwarfed in size and scale by Claremont McKenna College’s nearly three-year-old Roberts Pavilion. Student athletes have long complained that Rains lacks sufficient locker rooms, cardio equipment, ice baths and air-conditioning in the cardio room, and say the weight room is often overcrowded.

“The space is very limited for our team lifts and workouts, and even though we make it work and I very much appreciate what we have, it would be very nice to upgrade the facilities to accommodate more people,” said Emily Brooks PO ’22, a member of the swim team. “I definitely think it will also help with the recruiting process to have new facilities.”

Others had mixed feelings about the expenditure, and suggested the money could be better spent on improving mental health — although the two $10 million donations were earmarked specifically for the athletic center.

“At first when I heard about the new plans, I was disappointed that Pomona was not putting their money into more pressing matters, such as better mental health resources,” said Sophia West PO ’22, a cross-country and track runner. “However, once I learned that the gym was a donor gift and the money could be solely used for that purpose, I became more enthusiastic.”

Added cross-country and track athlete Joe Hesse-Withbroe PO ’22: “It’s unfortunate that these donations are coming in at a time when other, more critical [and] important resources are underfunded, but it’s not fair to expect Pomona to turn down $20 million.”

Gray Butler PO ’19 took issue with the message Pomona may be sending to its donors.

“I understand that specific donations go to specific things, but where is Pomona lobbying then for specific funds for mental health?” they wrote in a message to TSL. “I have had to do the work all by myself to reach out to alumni directly to ask for funding to pay for my therapy. … It doesn’t have to be either-or, but the prioritization is wrong.”

Dean of Students Avis Hinkson told TSL that Pomona is working separately to support student health and highlighted several new mental health programs.

“As a temporary measure, Pomona College began making off-campus counseling an additional option,” she wrote. “As the demand for off-campus service has increased, we are certainly looking into various funding methods to sustain these services while continuing to support Monsour as our primary source of healthcare.”

The remodeled gym will help support 21 NCAA teams, more than 1,800 intramural athletes and 550 club athletes, according to a Pomona press release. Pomona-Pitzer fields three more NCAA teams than it did when the Rains Center opened.

The announcement comes as Sagehen athletics appear to be on the rise; P-P won the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference men’s all-sports trophy in 2017-18 for the first time in program history.

“We are in the middle of a tremendous, unprecedented level of success for varsity athletics,” outgoing Pomona-Pitzer Athletic Director Lesley Irvine said in the press release.

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