Six varsity Mustangs athletics programs are being forced to find new homes for the 2018–19 season due to the Thames Hall renovations scheduled for January 2019.
The renovations will result in the creation of a new integrated Western Health and Wellness Centre. The wellness centre will serve as "a single point of entry for health and wellness services on our campus," according to the university. The renovated Thames Hall building will also house the School of Kinesiology and general-use student study spaces.
Construction is anticipated to begin in the spring of 2018, but current programming in Thames Hall will continue until Dec. 31, 2018.
Right now, Thames Hall houses sports and recreation facilities, including a gym, change rooms, coaches' offices and team rooms. The project will force the fencing, badminton, and men's and women's basketball and volleyball teams, to move from Thames Hall to other facilities across campus. Some of these teams will have their practice locations changed to the Western Student Recreation Centre and Alumni Hall. Other teams, including the badminton and fencing programs, will have their practice locations changed to the Althouse Faculty of Education Building. The volleyball and basketball programs will move their operations into Alumni Hall.
To accommodate the athletic programs' moves, the university will also renovate Alumni Hall and the WSRC. According to an internal memo sent by Chuck Mathies, manager of Intercollegiate Athletics, a sixth gym will be built in the WSRC to provide space for the programming that took place in Thames Hall. Further, the WSRC's current gym floors will be refinished to enhance its playing surfaces.
Alumni Hall will also undergo construction, which is set to be completed by December 2018. While planning is still underway, Alumni Hall is set to house coaches’ offices, team and general change room areas, visiting team room access, therapy rooms, rowing ergometer rooms and equipment storage. Additionally, plans are set for the construction of new coaches' offices in the WSRC's Thompson Arena.
Construction on the WSRC is expected to commence in April and be completed by the end of October. The memo said construction will be limited to the five gyms. The Blue Gym will remain open, and the WSRC will increase the number of free fitness classes during the construction period "to provide an increased variety of fitness options for students." Outside of the five gyms, no other programming in the WSRC will be affected.
“I feel like it would’ve been really nice if we were a part of [the decision-making]," said Nathan Roberts, a member of the fencing team. "Thames Hall is a beautiful facility for fencing because it gives us a lot of room to move around. It will be a bit of a learning curve for us to move to Althouse, considering the smaller size."
For Roberts, the lack of communication continues to be a problem that plagues many of the school's less-glamorous varsity programs.
"The fencing team seems to not be included in a lot of stuff, at least from my perspective. We’re not included as much as the other varsity sports," added Roberts. "We’re kind of forgotten and are left out of the major conversations.”
Mathies' memo also addressed concerns that the construction comes at an inopportune time with exam period approaching.
"While beginning this project just prior to the exam period and moving mid-season is far from ideal, beginning the project in April will minimize the overall impact to the campus community," wrote Mathies in the report.
While construction is ongoing at the WSRC and Alumni Hall, the teams that currently use the Thames Hall facility will continue doing so. The university's plans include a tentative completion date for construction at the WSRC set at the end of October. The transition of teams from Thames Hall to Alumni Hall will occur later in the fall semester and will conclude by the end of the 2018 calendar year.
According to Ruban Chelladurai, Western's vice-president of planning and budgeting, the administration's initial plan was to partner with the Society of Graduate Students and University Students' Council to fund the project. However, those plans fell through.
"Initially we were very excited about the positive reaction we got from the USC and SOGS, but the way it played out, they didn't support us in terms of a referendum to help finance part of the wellness centre," said Chelladurai. "We were disappointed.
The move is uprooting a number of varsity teams from their decades-long homes. However, while the change isn't ideal, student athletes like Roberts will just have to adjust.