President Charles M. Vest announced on Monday a lead gift that will enable the Institute to construct a new athletic facility to serve the growing needs of the student body and community. Its total cost is estimated at $18 million.
Barrie and Albert Zesiger (SB '51) of New York recently committed $8 million to build an Olympic-class swimming pool, which will be the centerpiece of the new facility.
"I am deeply grateful to Al and Barrie Zesiger for making it possible for us to proceed with this long-desired addition to the campus," Dr. Vest said. "A remarkable number of our students participate formally or informally in athletics. This bodes well for their health, learning, and involvement in the greater life of MIT. The quality of life of students, faculty and staff will be significantly enhanced by this major improvement in our athletic facilities."
"To have an active mind, you need an active body," said Albert Zesiger, a champion of fitness since he quit smoking 40 years ago. He has since run 17 marathons and become a mountain climber and long-distance swimmer. "Fitness is a lifestyle. It feels great and is just a great way to live."
Mr. Zesiger, founder of Zesiger Capital Group in New York, added that support of the project is a way to support the life and good health of the community for decades to come. "That was the thinking behind the gift."
The new facility will stand on west campus between Johnson Athletics Center and the Stratton Student Center and will include a 50-meter pool, seating for approximately 450 spectators, recreation and team locker rooms, a health fitness center, a sports medicine training facility, an equipment desk and a laundry. Building specifications have not yet been determined.
The two-year construction project is scheduled to begin in June 1998, and the center is slated for occupancy in September 2000. Phases II and III of the project will eventually result in the addition of further athletic rooms and facilities. Architects for the project have not yet been named.
Elizabeth and Harold Muckley (SB '39) of Houston, who have been long-time supporters of MIT, have made a $1 million gift for the new building.
"Athletic facilities are absolutely necessary for mental and physical well-being," said Rosalind H. Williams, dean for undergraduate education and student affairs. "In such a high-pressure place, exercise is for many an essential way to relax and regain a sense of perspective, as well as to keep physically fit."
Dr. Williams said the project is a major commitment to improve the life and education of the community. "In improving its facilities, MIT has to move forward on a number of fronts: athletics, residences and classrooms. Recently, academic facilities were expanded through the biology building and the Tang Center, and residential facilities were upgraded through the renovation of Senior House. The pool is a major step to improve athletic facilities. In the near future, we can expect this rhythm of improvements to continue."
Findings of 1996 surveys of faculty, alumni/ae and undergraduates reveal that undergraduates are satisfied with the MIT experience and that athletics play a big part, providing not only an outlet for stress, but opportunities for team building and leadership as well. Faculty report the importance of enhancing experiences outside the classroom, while alumni/ae place a high value on the quality of non-academic facilities, including athletics.
"I am elated about the opportunities that this will provide for students," said Director of Athletics Richard Hill, adding that with 39 varsity sports teams and 16 intramural programs, MIT has one of the largest broad-based sports programs in the country.
"It has been a great challenge to meet the health and fitness needs of the whole MIT community," Dr. Hill said. "Working in a high-quality environment is something many of us have only dreamed about; we never thought it would happen in our lifetime, but the prospect is here and we're ecstatic."
Swimming is among the most popular of MIT's 55 athletic activities. Last year, 500 registered to learn swimming, water polo and scuba diving.
Mr. Zesiger became a serious swimmer in 1984 when he injured a hip and no longer could run; he then realized there was no Olympic-standard pool in New York City. "That was when I picked up on the need for MIT to have one, too," he said. Soon he became chairman and chief financier of Asphalt Green, a 50-meter pool and five-story athletic facility which opened in New York in 1994. It is now one of the only Olympic-class pools on the East Coast open to the public. "As people live longer, physical exercise is very important," Mr. Zesiger said. "It gives you energy, clarity, relieves stress, clears the mind and is good for the body."
The existing Alumni Pool, built in 1940, will remain open to accommodate additional recreational swimmers.
Swimming long has been an MIT requirement. For some 50 years, freshmen have had to pass a 100-yard swim test; if they fail, they must take classes. Swim Coach John Benedick said when you build an athletic facility, you strengthen the whole community.
Dr. Hill agreed. "It will create a hub for campus life. It's a way to reach out and fully integrate the MIT community. Students, faculty, alumni and friends will come to a centralized facility and will create relationships in a way we never have experienced before. "It's a holistic approach. Not only will the new facility treat the whole body, but it will treat the whole community."
Mr. Zesiger, who as a student studied engineering (and did indeed pass the swim test) said his commitment to the new pool underscores his love not only of fitness, but technology.
"I believe in the pursuit of excellence," he said. "I believe that things should be new, innovative, excellent, faster, cleaner and more functional. It's the basics of engineering."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 4, 1996.