Million-dollar transformation of Palisano Pavilion on its way

After a summer of planning, Canisius’ new fitness center is on its way to construction. Here’s what went into the plans and what Griffs can expect.

(Tessa Pszonak)

Canisius students won’t have to wait too much longer for a new place to work out. 

After much deliberation and planning over the summer, Vice President for Business and Finance Marco Benedetti said Wednesday that the Palisano Pavilion fitness center announced last March is targeting a spring 2020 debut.

Benedetti said that CannonDesign, which was also responsible for the renovation of Montante Cultural Center, is “finalizing” the center’s construction drawings to give to the contractors. The Buffalo-based firm will serve as the project’s architect as well as the construction manager.  

Meanwhile, Canisius has filed building permits with the City of Buffalo, a demolition permit to remove carpet, light fixtures and ceiling panels and construction permits for the new renovation. 

“We met with the city last week to discuss the requirements and the permits required so that’s all in the process,” Benedetti said. “The city is very easy to work with. We worked with the city on the Catholic Health project and they were really beneficial in getting that done very fast.” 

A contractor has not yet been selected; however, a handful of options are on the table that will bid on the project. Benedetti said they are all companies that have worked on Canisius projects before, such as the renovation of the Andrew Bouwhuis Library a few years ago. The administration hopes to make a selection by the first week of October with construction to start “shortly after.”

Canisius had originally hoped to build the fitness center over the summer and have it done by the fall semester. Benedetti said it became clear that the nature of the project was far beyond such a short timeframe. 

“I would say people didn’t realize the scope of the project and a project of this nature,” he said. “This is a level two construction project, which requires all sorts of different permitting and there’s a little bit of remediation needed to remove the carpeting and flooring.

President John Hurley concurred on Thursday. “I thought initially, ‘what’s the big deal, it’s a big open space.’ Well, it’s always a little more complicated than that,” he said. 

While plans for the project came together in the past few months, the roots of the fitness center stretch back to 2014 when then-USA president Brock Wilkinson proposed a rock climbing wall and other equipment to be installed in Palisano for a recreation center. 

Wilkinson’s plan didn’t take off, but President Hurley said the idea came back after considering ways to recruit students. “I was convinced by students and by Dr. Wanzer that this is a hole in what we have, the fact that we don’t have something like this,” he said. “These are at every other school, why doesn’t Canisius have it?” 

What’s coming?

Palisano Pavilion was last renovated in the winter of 1998 at a cost of two million dollars. The building, constructed in 1960, had originally served as Canisius’ cafeteria. When the Winter Student Center took on the dining hall role in 1979, Palisano was used for banquets and conferences.

The 1998 renovation added the present-day entrance doors that face the quad. It turned the former kitchen area into an “Internet Cafe” and added stairs to connect the tunnels to the main floor. A former laundry area in the basement became a “Sidewalk Cafe” and is now used for storage. 

This stairwell was added in 1998; it will be removed with the upcoming renovations and the fitness center construction. (Tessa Pszonak/The Griffin)

The fitness center plan will remove those stairs and floor over the empty space. The two entrance doors will be converted into emergency-exit only doors, which Benedetti said will prevent snow and salt from being tracked into the exercise area. A desk, staffed by work study students, will be stationed in the building to monitor users. 

The main floor will feature a mix of cardio equipment and strength and resistance machines, all of which will be brand-new. Equipment will not be relocated from the Koessler Athletic Center. The cardio machines will be leased for 3-5 years to coincide with a maintenance plan, while the strength machines will be permanent. Look for televisions to be installed with certain cardio machines. 

These doors were added in 1998; they’ll be converted to emergency exit only when the fitness center is built (Tessa Pszonak/The Griffin)

Furthermore, the Internet Cafe area will be transformed into a private workout classroom for Zumba, yoga and other group exercise after the stairs are removed. It will feature audio/visual equipment for instructors. 

The fitness center plans also call for showers and gender-neutral changing rooms (showers will still be seperated). There are already two showers located down a basement corridor in Palisano, next to Fusion gaming lab. Those are currently inactive, Benedetti said, but are in “perfectly fine” condition. Management has also considered adding showers to the existing bathrooms. 

An upgraded security system with cameras will keep an eye on the new equipment. The center will be lit by efficient LED lights and will feature an upgraded climate system will keep things cool. 

Benedetti said that the project is still under budget, which was set at around one million dollars. The Undergraduate Student Association pledged $50,000 towards that from a surplus in the budget. 

He does not anticipate operating costs, such as utility or insurance costs, to change once the fitness center is up and running. The only additional spending will go towards leasing the cardio equipment. 

“It is going to be an attractive place to visit on campus. Hopefully it will add to the wellness factor of the campus. I think it will be great for [students] to [exercise] together in a space that’s going to be very pleasing,” said Benedetti.

“I think it’s going to be a great addition to the campus,” Hurley said. “I’m really looking forward to this going online.” 

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