New college fitness center to be open to Suffolk residents

More than 40 years after they were first proposed, a fitness center and indoor swimming pool are under construction in Northampton.

After years of setbacks, work on the project began in early September at the Eastern Campus of Suffolk County Community College and officials hope the fitness center will be operational by the fall of 2018. Construction began almost exactly two years after a group of state, county and local officials gathered at the site for a groundbreaking ceremony.

Steel framing for the $22 million, 40,000-square-foot Health and Wellness Center is going up on the south side of the campus.

“The goal is to get the steel up first and close the building; then they can work on the interior over the winter,” said SCCC spokesman Drew Biondo.

The facility will feature an eight-lane indoor swimming pool, basketball court, locker room and shower facilities and faculty space as well as a weight training room and rock climbing wall, Mr. Biondo said.

The building will be LEED certified for energy efficiency and will serve as a health and wellness facility for students as well as for Suffolk County residents, who will be able to use the center for a fee when it’s not in use by the college.

“This is going to be a huge asset to the community,” said county Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor). “In my district on the South Fork, there’s 240 square miles, including Shelter Island, and we have one small indoor pool, which is in East Hampton. So this is a facility that is really lacking in the community now.”

Ms. Fleming said Eastern Campus students must have physical education credits to graduate and currently have to go to another campus to acquire those credits.

While the Eastern Campus fitness center has taken a long time to become reality, similar private ventures also have been stalled.

Since 2000, numerous potential locations were proposed for a planned Peconic YMCA within Riverhead Town, but were dropped due to opposition to either the location or a development project the YMCA was to be part of.

First Baptist Church of Riverhead has also been planning a Family Community Life Center on its Northville Turnpike property for close to 30 years and has yet to break ground. That project proposes, among other things, an indoor pool and fitness center that would be open to the public, along with about 125 “workforce” apartments. The residential aspect of that project has run into opposition from some Riverhead Town Board members over the years.

Suffolk County Community College has to yet to work out the details for public use of the property but the policy will probably be similar to the one in place at SCCC’s Health, Sports and Education Center on the Grant Campus in Brentwood, which also has a pool, Mr. Biondo said.

“It will probably draw primarily from eastern Suffolk County, but we’re Suffolk County Community College, so anyone from Suffolk County can enjoy the facility,” he said.

The Brentwood campus has more than 1,400 members who pay a membership fee. Mr. Biondo said the college also runs a summer camp.

“High schools will be able to use the pool for competitions, and police, fire and emergency services organizations can use the pool for training,” he said.

The fitness center plan dates back to 1973, four years before the Northampton campus even existed. It was part of the 1973 college master plan that included the Eastern Campus. The academic campus was built in 1977, but the fitness center took much longer to materialize.

Part of the delay had to do with a 1993 state law protecting the Central Pine Barrens. The campus was located in the area’s core, where that law largely prohibits development.

College officials argued that the Health and Wellness Center was part of an overall original plan for the Eastern Campus, and that other parts of that plan built after 1993, such as the Montaukett Building, had been permitted by the Pine Barrens Commission.

After finally getting commission approval in 2013, it took until 2015 for the center to obtain approval from county officials. A subsequent delay in getting permits led to a $4 million increase in cost.

Both the county and the state had to take new votes earlier this year to allocate an additional $2 million each to the project.

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Photo: (Credit: Tim Gannon)