Alumni Gym

A New Plan for Alumni Gym
January 06, 2014

If... you’ve walked across the Quad lately, you may have wondered about the blue-and-green banner on Alumni Gym that reads, “A new purpose for Alumni Gym coming soon.”

Alumni Gym is being repurposed from within, and will be transformed into an innovation studio for student projects. The plan is to conserve the historic character of the building—right down to the bricks and gargoyles—while designing a space to inspire and enable the innovation and problem solving that is the heart of WPI’s educational curriculum.

“If you read our brochures, if you talk to students and faculty—you get the impression that WPI’s program is very different,” says dean of undergraduate studies Art Heinricher. “But when you walk around campus, it can be hard to see that. Our goal is to create a physical presence for what we say and believe is fundamentally different about WPI’s programs.”

The 34,255-square-foot floor plan has four levels dedicated to student project work, with mechanical and storage facilities on the fifth floor.

  •  A 1,400-square-foot atrium will showcase Innovations and achievements of WPI students and alumni with interactive digital displays.
  • The old swimming pool will be converted to a robotics laboratory.
  • Levels One and Two will serve as maker space for projects of all disciplines, with open-access instrumentation and facilities for rapid 3D prototyping.
  • Level Three will include classroom spaces for the Great Problems Seminars (GPS) and a business development incubator to nurture entrepreneurship.
  • Level Four will have tech suites with flexible configurations and collaborative workshop space for MQP, IQP, Humanities, and GPS project work.

Heinricher is enthusiastic about the building’s open and collaborative design, which will encourage mixing between disciplines and class years. “By having an intentional mixing of first year GPS students with fourth year MQP students, for example, and interactions between the business incubator space and the maker space, we’ll guarantee that first year students get a better idea of what they’re working toward. Advanced students will benefit from increased connections and more opportunities to talk about their work.”

Terri Anne Camesano is the faculty spokesperson for the instrumentation area. She says, “The instrumentation lab and maker space will enable teams of students to come together to solve complex problems that address society’s biggest challenges.  Students will be encouraged to explore new ways to design, create, and characterize technology, materials, and solutions. Projects can span the range from the nano, to the small, to the macroscale. For example, students can use nanocharacterization tools, such as atomic force microscopy, to probe and characterize materials, cells, and molecules. At the macroscale, students can design and prototype devices and materials using 3D printers.”

To assess student needs, Roman Gutierrez ’15, SGA public relations chair, gathered a diverse group to offer feedback to the administration. (Their responses are expressed in an entertaining video.) “The plans are very exciting,” he says. “They take bits and pieces of the current student needs, and combine them in a way that really reflect WPI’s project-based curriculum. Prospective students will get a physical, concrete interpretation of our motto in the configuration of this building.”

SGA vice president Phill Blake ’14 looks forward to the flex space on the top floor, where walls and seating can be reconfigured to suit the needs of project teams. “Creating a building centered around project work will truly represent WPI’s collaborative spirit,” he says. “I envision potential students seeing a true testament of the real hands-on course work they can be part of at WPI.”

Alumni Gym, built by WPI alumni, for WPI students, with love, has stood as a landmark at the heart of the campus for almost a century. Executive director of alumni relations and giving Peter Thomas notes, “Our century-old Alumni Gym represents WPI’s first alumni-driven fundraising campaign, and alumni will once again play a key role in raising the funds to repurpose this venerable campus icon.” He says that alumni loved getting a sneak peek at plans for the renovation during Homecoming Weekend, and they will be offered similar opportunities during Alumni Weekend this spring. “We look forward to generating a lot of excitement and momentum around this project in the coming months as plans are finalized and our fundraising is kicked off in February.”

- By Joan Killough-Miller