Trustees to Consider Philips Gym Expansion


Photo by Rick Yu, Photo editor

An aerial view of Philips gym and the surrounding area. The red box roughly delineates the location of the gym’s planned expansion.

Louis Krauss, News Editor

The Board of Trustees will decide whether to approve the long-planned expansions to Philips gym at meetings taking place Oct. 6–8. The additions include renovating Robert Carr Pool and building a health and wellness center to house a new weight room, cardio facility, yoga room and general class-meeting space.

According to Delta Lodge Athletics Director Natalie Winkelfoos, a pool renovation has been needed for several years. Winkelfoos said she thinks an additional building will help serve a larger and broader audience.

“An expansion of the facility will help grow our programming and provide us with more space that enables us to serve a diverse group of users,” Winkelfoos wrote in an email to the Review.

While both Winkelfoos and Vice President for Finance and Administration Mike Frandsen declined to say how much the expansion would cost, the Oberlin News-Tribune reported Aug. 30 it would be approximately $15 million.

The Board declined to approve the expansion last December because the college underestimated the cost and deemed it too expensive an investment. Since then, administrators have attempted to reduce expenses by cutting back on improvements to the gym’s exterior along Woodland Street and decreasing office space. If the plan is approved, the wellness center will be built south of the current gym and demolish two campus owned houses in order to make room.

While Winkelfoos said she believes the addition will help make the space more comfortable for all visitors, some students argued Philips gym has a negative environment that will not improve with a few renovations.

College senior and Student Health Working Group member Dana Kurzer-Yashin said she is uncertain if improving facilities will fix the social aspect of the gym’s issues.

“There’s a real culture around Philips gym; people don’t feel entitled to that space,” Kurzer-Yashin said. “If they expand the gym, I’m afraid it will be more of the same people utilizing those resources, and the same people feeling like they aren’t welcome in that space.”

In several meetings last year, Kurzer-Yashin met with Athletic department administrators and asked them to incorporate hours each week reserved for women and transgender people. Although Winkelfoos and other Athletics staff said they would begin reserving gym hours for women and transgender people only on Sundays after closing time, these hours were cancelled without Kurzer-Yashin being notified. Administrators later told her the plan would be possible upon completion of the expansion.

“Basically, they were worried if they gave time to women and trans folks, that then Black men and Black women would want to have their own time slots, and that too many would want to reserve the rooms,” Kurzer-Yashin said. “So, because of that, they thought if this expansion happens there will be enough space to reserve time for groups.”

Double-degree senior and Student Senate Liaison Jeremy Poe agreed that an expansion would not resolve student issues, and said that the issue with the gym is not its space, but rather, a lack of rules.

“Why don’t we have a code of conduct in the gym?” Poe said. “To me, it seems pretty simple to say ‘You’re not allowed to touch people in the gym.’ Right now, to the best of my knowledge, there’s no mechanism for that.” While Poe acknowledged that it’s a real concern that the weight room is inadequate for most of the varsity teams’ needs, he believes the money for this project could go to more important causes, like moving the Student Health Center.

“You’ve got ideas like a smoothie bar, a new weight room, but you need staff for those,” Poe said. “It doesn’t bother me, but there are better ways to spend this money. If you move Student Health Services on campus, you get far more bang for your buck, but the problem is then you don’t have an athletics facility that compares to Kenyon. I think that’s really the driving factor. You talk to anyone who visits Kenyon and they’ll tell you how incredible the facilities are. Maybe I’m just someone who thinks athletics facilities are not as big a driver for recruiting students as administrators do.”

According to Frandsen, if the Board of Trustees passes the expansion in October, the construction will be completed by late spring or summer 2018.