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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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O’Pake renovations still years out

Students work out in O’Pake Recreation Center on a Monday night. PHOTO: Mitchell Shields ’22

After the university’s latest master plan was released last spring, community members began buzzing about what they welcomed as a much needed upgrade to campus: renovations to the O’Pake Recreation Center.

Kevin Kane, assistant vice president of Facilities Operations, said renovations to O’Pake are still in the planning stage, with design plans being considered. Most current students will not see any major improvements to the facility during their time at St. Joe’s.

“Best case estimate for construction to start would be next winter, and we expect construction to last approximately two years,” Kane said.

The speed of the process depends largely on Lower Merion Township approvals, Kane said.

“The hardest to get approved are the building permits,” Kane said. “Any approvals go through the board of commissioners for Lower Merion. Hard to quantify the length of the process. A couple months are budgeted for approvals, but it could be dragged out depending on approvals.”

Still, O’Pake is further along in the process than the other master plan projects, said Tim McGuriman, associate vice president of Administrative Services.

As reported in the March 9 issue of The Hawk, highlights of the master plan include moving Campion Student Center to where LaFarge Residence Center and Sourin Residence Center are currently located, tearing down those residence halls and updating O’Pake.

“There are certain things we’ve been able to kind of move along a little more aggressively than others,” McGuriman said. “The exact timeframe of when exactly things are going to happen isn’t as clearly defined, but there’s certainly some things that are sooner rather than later.”

O’Pake has been slated for renovations at least since 2008, according to Campus Recreation staff. In 2008, the university acquired what was then Episcopal Academy’s property, renamed it the James J. Maguire ’58 Campus and moved a number of university operations across City Avenue into that space.

“We took over what was a high school gym, and the plan at the time was to come in and do some major renovations,” said Corey Shannon, director of Campus Recreation. “Unfortunately, 2008 was when the economy was tanking, and the administration said, alright, let’s hold off on that. So we basically got some paint and some carpeting, but we’ve been essentially using the same space since.”

Shannon said “pretty much everything is being put on hold” right now until plans for the renovations are finalized.

“We don’t want to commit to spending a lot of money to do some things when we know there’s going to be a major renovation in, could be, a year, whenever it is, I don’t know,” Shannon said. “Obviously if there are safety concerns, they’re addressed. We handle those things and facilities has been good about that but, for instance, I’d like to replace some backboards out in the gym, or the bleachers. If it’s something that doesn’t present an immediate hazard, then we’re probably going to have to hold off on that until the bigger renovation.”

Space is definitely a priority for Shannon.

“Our biggest challenge is the fitness center,” Shannon said. “The space, it’s just not big enough, so that’s my A1 request for if and when we get the renovations. In the meantime, I’ve requested to replace backboards, bleacher enhancements, sound system, that I’m now hopeful will be included in the major renovation. Unfortunately, things are not happening necessarily as quickly as we would all like.”

Collin Cavanaugh ’20, who visits O’Pake about five times a week, finds the facilities lacking.

“It’s very poor, I would say similar to a high school, not even a nice high school,” Cavanaugh said. “It needs a lot of work, and over all, the student body is not happy.”

Lauren Bello ’21 started a petition, Operation O’Pake, currently standing at 583 signatures. Bello’s goal for the petition was to get the administration’s attention to everyone’s frustrations about the gym’s condition.

“So many other schools, they actively are trying to improve their facilities for the student body because it is the gym, they should want their students to be active, to be healthy, and they should want a good environment to be in,” Bello said. “It should be a priority for the school because the students should be a priority. The school should care because the students care.”

Bello still waits for changes to be solidified.

“If they would put a concrete date in place and actually actively work on it, I think that would make a difference,” Bello said.

Cavanaugh, however, has given up on waiting for changes, but he said he hopes something will be done soon for future students.

“As a senior, I’ve been waiting for four years, so I’ve already been able to make do with what we have, but for younger classes, I think this is just another reason not to attend this school,” Cavanaugh said.

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