A new gym, locker rooms, health services area, and fitness center are housed in the new wing of the O’Connell Athletic Center at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford.
By Ronni Newton
The gym in the new wing of the O’Connell Athletic Center at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford has more than twice the capacity of the old gym, and the state-of-the art addition, which was celebrated with a ribbon cutting Wednesday, also features four new locker rooms, an equipment and laundry room, the Beekley Center for Student Health and Wellness, and the Hoffman Lobby.
Work on the transformation of USJ’s athletic facilities began in early 2020.
The first time legendary basketball coach Jim Calhoun, the former UConn men’s basketball coach who was hired as the “architect” of USJ’s men’s basketball program four years ago, saw the existing facility, he recommended a bigger gym.
“The very first time he saw it he said, ‘This is charming,'” Dr. Rhona Free, USJ’s president, said Wednesday.
The school had already decided to admit men as undergraduates, and at the same time increase the number of varsity teams.
“We needed an expansion,” she said, and Calhoun assisted in making it a reality. “He really helped inspire people to get behind the project.”
Over the past year, renovations were made to the existing athletic facility while a 31,000 square foot state-of-the art addition was also constructed.
Calhoun said Wednesday that the expansion is exciting not just for the basketball team, but for the entire school community.
The ground floor includes the new gymnasium, which will be used by in-season teams and can accommodate 800 fans. The existing gym sat roughly 300, and will now be used for practice.
The locker room facilities are “one of the best locker rooms for D3 athletes in the country,” said Associate Director of Athletics Wole Oke.
Coaches’ offices, which had been houses in trailers in the parking lot, are located on the second floor, down the hall from the light-filled strength and conditioning center. A balcony seminar room, with a large whiteboard and a conference table, can be used by student-atheltes from all sports and has a birds-eye view of the gym below.
The addition and updates benefit the entire USJ community. “It’s so great to have such a wonderful place for all students to come together,” Free said at the ribbon cutting.
“The gymnasium, the physical fitness room, there’s all kinds of stuff to look at. Another thing is that the student-athletes hang out here a lot because it’s so comfortable, they all get to see each other. It’s really a wonderful meeting place, and hopefully a very good winning place as we get into the winter months,” Calhoun said Wednesday.
The Bluejays’ 2021-2021 basketball season begins Nov. 6, and the men will hold their season opener in the new gym.
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