Academy readies new field house

The Baltimore Sun

With hydraulic lifts pumping and air blowers whirring under a carpet of artificial turf, the Naval Academy unveiled a high-tech new field house yesterday where its varsity athletes can train, club teams can play and midshipmen can stay in shape.

Located on the southeast edge of campus near the Severn River, the $50 million Wesley A. Brown Field House succeeds the Academy's Halsey Field House as the home for six varsity teams and as a centerpiece for fitness training and physical education for all midshipmen.

A dedication ceremony and public opening for the 140,000-square-foot field house - which includes an elevated, banked indoor track that is raised by hydraulics and a layer of synthetic turf that retracts automatically while floating on a cushion of air jets - will be held Saturday morning.

Carla Criste, coach of the women's track and field team, said her athletes are anxiously awaiting the official opening. "The doors have been locked, but they keep trying to get in and take a lap," she said.

As a handful of workers tightened valves, scraped mortar and tended planter beds on the building's exterior, the project's lead managers offered a tour of the airy, well-lighted building, which features a wall of windows facing the Santee Basin sailboat dock in its main gymnasium space.

Tom McKavitt, associate athletic director for facilities and maintenance, said the approximately $50 million facility was funded as a two-year government project and will contribute to the "overall physical mission of the Academy."

The men's and women's cross country and track teams will relocate to the new field house, as will the men's lacrosse and sprint football teams. McKavitt said as many as 16 club sports will also use the building, which can be rearranged to accommodate basketball and volleyball, in addition to track and turf-based sports.

McKavitt demonstrated the field house's most striking transformation yesterday as its 76,000-square-foot covering of synthetic turf was rolled back. Three large blowers, each with six output vents hidden beneath the gym floor, hummed to life as the carpet, lined for football, began to buckle and retract, revealing the indoor track surface underneath.

Surrounding this convertible centerpiece space in the field house are about 250 lockers for athletes and coaching staff, an upstairs coaches' suite, classrooms, a hydrotherapy room, treatment and taping beds, trainers' offices and an extensive weight room with dozens of bench presses, machine weights, treadmills and exercise bikes.

Ashley Waddle, a junior middle-distance runner and hurdler for the indoor and outdoor track teams, said that the new field house blows the older one "out of the water."

After a one-lap test run on the new indoor track, Waddle said, "It felt awesome. I've never run on a banked track before, and you could definitely feel the difference. I can't wait to compete on it."

Criste, the women's track coach, said the banked track surface, which rises about 4 feet off the ground on hydraulic lifts, is one of only a few in the U.S.

The field house is named after retired Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Brown, the first African-American to graduate from the academy. He said he couldn't begin to compare its amenities with what he had as a 1949 graduate. "This is definitely 21st century, state of the art," he said.

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