Cleans and cleaning: athletic facilities return in Phase Two

By Neta Kafka

As Middlebury College gave the green light for students to venture into town on Sept. 17, just as thrilling for many students was the reopening of the college’s athletic facilities, a key feature of Phase Two. Areas such as the fitness center, Natatorium and Nelson Arena that have been vacant and unused for close to six months are now open and ready for weights to be lifted, stationary bikes to be spun, laps to be swum and matches to be played.

Just like everything else this semester at Middlebury, the athletic facilities look and feel much different than they did prior to the pandemic. One major change is that reservations are now required to use the equipment in the fitness center, the cardio area in Kenyon Arena, lanes in the pool and the squash courts in Nelson. In addition, students must scan their IDs at different desks and abide by the reduced occupancies of athletic spaces. Assistant Director of Athletics for Operations and Events Franklin Dean-Farrar oversaw and coordinated this new layout for the athletic facilities.

While students used to have the freedom to use most athletic facilities at any time of day, they will now have to plan a bit farther in advance and make reservations for specific spaces at designated times. The college is using the website 25LivePro to facilitate this process. Each athletic area — such as the cardio balcony or the weight room — has different capacities and therefore must be reserved separately. Time slots are limited to one hour and are separated by 30-minute periods. At each facility, students must scan their IDs and present their “Safe for School” Policy Path badge in order to be cleared to use the facility.

In many cases, the spaces themselves were also transformed to allow for physical distancing. In the upper fitness center, every other elliptical or treadmill is blocked off with caution tape. Nelson Arena is open only for singles tennis, not doubles. Dean-Farrar said that the process for determining maximum occupancies and the resulting reconfigurations “was a campus wide, team effort,” and the spaces had to “meet CDC, VT, and College guidelines for space and use.” Dean-Farrar also pointed out that “inside physical exercise requires more than six feet of physical distance, something closer to 12 feet because of how hard you’re breathing.” As a result, facilities are currently operating at 25% of the maximum occupancy.

Even with these significant changes, student enthusiasm for the recommencement of activities in the athletic center is high.

“I worked out in the gym all summer, so going without it for two weeks was super weird,” Grace Boyce ‘22.5 said. “I brought dumbbells with me, but that only gets you so far. I have loved being back in the gym. I was confused by the signups at first, but now that I get it, I have found myself in the gym every day.”

Although there are some difficult adjustments, like wearing a mask while sweating or having less flexibility due to the reservation system, students are also finding some positives to the new guidelines. Boyce said that capacity limits allow for “more space and access to all of the equipment.”

Although the Chip Kenyon ’85 Arena usually serves as the home for the men’s and women’s ice hockey programs, this year it has been transformed into a cardio space due to COVID-19 changes. (Van Barth)

Students are also required to wipe down any equipment before and after use.

“It feels a lot cleaner,” Boyce said. “Not that it wasn’t clean before, but people — including myself — would forget to wipe stuff down. Now everyone is making a concerted effort to be clean.”

Abby Copeland, assistant coach of alpine skiing and fitness center director, noted that she has been impressed with the students that have visited the fitness center so far. “They have stuck to the guidelines, adhered to all our rules and regulations, and they’ve been patient as we navigate our new check in procedure, reservation system, and cleaning protocols,” she said.

As they have with many other aspects of the college’s reopening, Middlebury students have by and large proven to be respectful and responsible members of a community collectively navigating new circumstances at the gym.

“It’s been a real treat having [students] back in the building.” Copeland added.