Georgetown Preparatory School

State-of-the-Art, All-in-One Athletics Center

In addition to a 200-meter track, above, the Jesuit-run school's new athletic center has an NCAA-regulation basketball court and practice courts, a weight-training room and an 11-lane pool.
In addition to a 200-meter track, above, the Jesuit-run school's new athletic center has an NCAA-regulation basketball court and practice courts, a weight-training room and an 11-lane pool. (By Brian A. Gnatt)
By Julie Rasicot
Special to the Washington Post
Thursday, April 19, 2007

Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda, which has long been known as a sports powerhouse, now has the facilities to make the most of its students' athletic abilities.

The school recently opened the state-of-the-art Center for Athletic Excellence, a $23 million, 150,000-square-foot building that sits behind the stately facades of the main campus buildings along Rockville Pike.

The red-brick structure holds a 200-meter indoor track as well as a competition-size basketball court with 950 seats for spectators, four practice courts, an 11-lane competition pool, a 6,000-square-foot weight-training room, and a wrestling room with two rings for competitions.

"Nothing was cut back in this building," said the Rev. William L. George, president of the independent, Jesuit-run college preparatory school for 450 boys in grades 9 through 12. "The nicest thing about this building? It's paid for."

The construction and other improvements to the school facilities, including the golf course and roads, are being funded through a 99-year ground lease agreement that George and school officials arranged with Texas-based real estate firm JPI. The company is leasing nearly four of the school's 90 acres at Tuckerman Lane and Rockville Pike and constructing a 473-unit luxury apartment complex that is scheduled to open this summer.

When county planners were considering JPI's proposal to build the apartment complex in 2003, a few neighbors said they were worried about increased traffic. As part of its unanimous approval of the plan, the Planning Board required the developer to install a traffic signal at Tuckerman Lane and Grosvenor Place Road, directly across from the complex's entrance.

Over the term of the lease, JPI will pay a total of $888 million to the school. The annual revenue from the lease allowed Georgetown Prep to fund the construction and pay for the other improvements without raising tuition or increasing enrollment or fundraising.

The annual payments from JPI will pay the $35 million tax-exempt bond issued to the school by the county for the project and then help fund school operations for the remainder of the lease, according to Brian Gnatt, Georgetown Prep's communications director.

The athletic center replaces the school's field house, which opened in 1961 and has one basketball court and an aging indoor swimming pool. Construction is expected to begin later this year on a $17 million project to convert the field house into a student learning center with a media center, classrooms, a student commons area and possibly a student restaurant.

George said the design of the athletic center was based on a needs analysis of the school's athletic programs. The center's offerings, including a trainer for the weight room who can create individualized programs for students and staff members, will help fulfill Georgetown Prep's philosophy of strengthening the minds, bodies and souls of its students, he said.

Although the building's prime purpose is athletics, the school's Jesuit background is evident in the prominent display of a brightly colored 8-foot-round fused glass window picturing the Archangel Gabriel, which was designed and created by two teachers and anchors one end of the building.

George's pride in the new facility was evident as he recently toured the center, pointing out the irradiated water in the new pool, which cuts down on the use of chemicals, and its two diving boards; the NCAA-regulation basketball court; and the lounge area for students with a concession stand that sells pizza and crab cakes.

The indoor track is located in a 54,000-square-foot section of the new center. Huge, retractable curtains drop from the ceiling to shield the inner part of the track, where the practice basketball courts are located. There are shot-put and pole-vaulting areas and batting cages that can be lowered from above.

"It's a bit much, but honest to goodness, in the short time it's been open, I've seen everything used," George said.

Other amenities include a film room with video conferencing capability that will be used to screen game footage and also as a classroom; offices for the athletic director and coaching staff members; separate locker rooms for students, staff, visitors and referees; and a training room complete with three whirlpools.

Gnatt noted that, unlike the old field house, the center is co-ed with facilities for women and girls from other schools who may be playing in tournaments and meets held at Georgetown Prep.

Since the center is used by students primarily from 3 to 7 p.m., George said he is exploring renting the building to outside groups that could use the facilities during the day. The athletic center already has hosted several events and tournaments and is a "resource for the diocese," he said.

Just four months after opening, it has become a gathering place for students, especially the 100 or so resident students, Gnatt said. "What it's done for the school is it brings us together in a really joyful way," George said.

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