Lighting, flooring, seating, dining, hardware, software, security, accessibility, and on and on. Innumerable elements went into New Trier High School’s revamped athletic facilities at its Winnetka campus.
And by August, all of them — at least the necessary ones — were in place and ready for use. But school leaders like Andy Butler needed to see one more thing.
“One of the primary goals of this is for the kids to be excited to be in the area,” said Butler, New Trier’s kinetic wellness chair. “That’s one of the fun things this week, seeing the kids coming in, taking out their phones for photos, genuinely excited about using the different facilities. … It’s been really fun to see our kids reaction.”
The three-story, $75-million building met its target date and opened its doors to students on the first day of fall athletics on Monday, Aug. 7, when Associate Superintendent Chris Johnson led The Record on a tour of the space at 385 Winnetka Ave.
While the site and gymnasiums are usable, some areas are incomplete, such as the fitness center, which is awaiting exercise equipment. Johnson said a vast majority of items will be installed by the first day of school on Monday, Aug. 21.
New Trier officials nicknamed the new building’s main space The Canyon.
The new building was born out of a facilities plan that identified the Winnetka campus’s athletic spaces, including century-old Gates Gym, as inadequate. A year-plus of discussion and study preceded the board’s unanimous approval in February 2021 of a $75-million plan to demolish Gates and construct a new building with a main gym, indoor track, training areas, academic spaces and more.
Funding for the project came from district reserves, bond proceeds and debt service.
The new building ties into the 2015-17 rebuild of the campus’s west side, in which three outdated buildings were replaced with a 300,000-square-foot one at a cost of more than $100 million — a pricetag that necessitated a successful referendum in 2014.
Demolition of Gates Gym began in late 2021, and the first varsity competition in the new gym is set for Monday, Aug. 21, when the New Trier girls volleyball team will open its season against Libertyville at 6 p.m.
The district is hosting a dedication and open house for the new building from 2-4 p.m. on Sept. 9, when the community is invited to hear from district leaders, see activity demonstrations and walk through the space.
Entry to the facility is a major change from Gates. No more grand stone steps, no more arched entryways. The brick facade does feature arched cutouts as a nod to Gates, but primary access is on the north side of the building and mimics the three-story, glass encased entry of the school’s west side.
While standing three stories tall, New Trier’s new athletic building features four levels. Those in the know may shudder at “New Trier’s basement track,” with thoughts of dangerous pillars, a cramped weight cage and hidden classrooms. But no longer.
The lower-level features a quarter-mile, six-lane track looped around an artificial turf infield, suitable for indoor track meets as well as various athletic practices. In the same area, netted batting cages can be dropped from the ceiling.
New Trier’s new lower-level track comes with seating made from reclaimed wood from Gates Gym.
Rows of bleachers flank the track to its north. In one of many of the new building’s homages to Gates Gym, the seating is built with wood taken from Gates’ incomparable balcony section.
The lower level also includes the athletic trainers rooms, locker rooms and storage.
Climb the stairs and reach the first floor, which includes the primary entryway on the north end of the building, trophy cases and views of the lower-level track as well as seamless access to the rest of the school — a stark difference from its confusing predecessor.
One floor up and you are in the hub of activity in the new facility. Johnson said officials have nicknamed the bright, airy and spacious area “The Canyon.” Natural light streams in from the three-story wall of windows at the north entryway and the nearly end-to-end row of skylights above.
The building’s showcase amenities are located on this level, led by the main competition gym, aka Gates replacement. The space can seat 1,800 on retractable, blue bleachers placed on all four sides of the gym, and upper-deck seating on the east end — another homage to Gates. All of it, like Gates, sits under a barreled roof.
Above the bleachers on the west end is a massive videoboard — its size and capabilities may make it the envy of the area. Fontanetta said aside from competition scoring and statistics, the board can show video highlights, game replays and player introductions.
While the gym is larger than Gates, the bleachers will extend closer to and higher above the court, making for a “more intimate” competition setting, Butler said, adding that an intense atmosphere was a desire of the school’s coaches and student-athletes.
The new gym features a large digital videoboard capable of showing highlights.
“Coaches were concerned about that,” Butler said. “… The athletes really appreciate it. They love when the crowd is right there. It’s a fun, vibrant atmosphere for the kids.”
The space will host Trevians athletic events — from basketball and volleyball to badminton and fencing — and be a homebase for the school’s kinetic wellness curriculum.
Out the gym doors and back into the hub, plenty of other spaces are accessible from the Canyon. An accessory gym features an overlook with seating and is surrounded by a wall and a half of windows; a rock-climbing wall occupies its own room and is the hallmark of the school’s outdoor education course; the modern concession area also offers school-day dining service and features Gates Gym flooring around its facade; and several classrooms will host all types of classes — “everything but the sciences,” Johnson said.
The athletics department is located in the center of the primary level and features two more nods to Gates. The old gym’s landmark stone sign that reads “The Leslie F. Gates Gymnasium, 1928” is built into a side wall, and the Gates’ floor’s center-court New Trier insignia is incorporated within the entryway flooring.
The main level also includes a merch store serviced by the One Stop Trevs Shop, a weight room, a lounging area and auxiliary spaces.
The third floor features a majority of the building’s 14 classrooms, as well as an overlook to the floor below and into the primary gym. The fitness center’s cardio area sits above and with access to the weight room below. A high-ropes course (not yet installed) and the climbing wall will also be accessible from the top floor.
Gates Gym’s center court was placed in New Trier’s new athletics office. | Photo from New Trier High School
The building is open and available for students and staff members to use, but that does not mean it is finished.
Walls were bare and trophy cases empty on Monday, Aug. 7. Johnson said the school will in the coming weeks transfer the school’s numerous trophies and banners into their rightful place around the competition gym.
Exercise machines and apparatuses are on their way. Decorative signage too. The ropes course may not be done until October, and final infrastructure and design details are in the works, as construction workers remain active in the building.
“Nothing that impacts the use of the space for the kids,” Johnson said.
And use is a key word.
New Trier officials project the new facilities will see student activity from early in the morning until well into the the night.
“Honestly I think it’s second to none,” said Augie Fontanetta, New Trier’s athletic director. ” … It’s a well thought-out space and versatile. It can be used from the early morning before school, all the way through the last kinetic wellness class and of course through after-school athletic events.”
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