BY BETHANY BRAY
---- — SALEM — Construction work is under way at Salem State University’s O’Keefe Center.
The $15 million project will expand the facility, adding a new, upgraded fitness and recreation center, dance and yoga studios and two basketball courts. It’s expected to be finished and open for the fall of 2013, along with the university’s new library.
Construction trailers arrived at the O’Keefe Center in mid-August. Crews are doing prep work, including pulling up sidewalks, clearing the area and working on underground utility lines. Work on the new foundation will begin in the next couple of weeks, said Karen Cady, SSU spokeswoman.
A groundbreaking ceremony at the O’Keefe Center is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 4 p.m.
Construction is also ongoing on the campus’ new $73 million library.
“I envy those (2013) incoming freshmen,” said Cady.
At the O’Keefe Center, 39,000 square feet will be added to the building and roughly 8,000 existing square feet will be renovated, said Cady.
The project will also redesign the facility’s entrance, building a large glass atrium.
“It’s really going to provide a facelift for the whole building,” Cady said. “It’s really going to enhance campus life for both commuter and residential students. I think this will really become a center of social activity.”
The O’Keefe Center, at 225 Canal St., houses SSU athletics and has an ice rink, swimming pool and other facilities. It originally opened in 1976.
The building’s fitness center, which opened in the 1990s, is very small — “too small for today’s demands,” said Cady. Once the reconstruction is finished, the original fitness center will be used for sports training, she said.
The current fitness center is approximately 2,200 square feet, while the new center will be 9,500 square feet.
SSU has roughly 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Salem State alumni can purchase membership passes to use the O’Keefe Center’s fitness center.
The new construction is planned primarily for student use, Cady said, but expanding usage to the greater public is under consideration.
Any decision on public use will be made once the facility is open, and the university can determine its usage patterns and whether it could handle more.
The expansion project is not expected to affect the parking lot at the O’Keefe Center.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.