War Memorial Hall, known as the stuffy, cramped gym located in the basement, is closing its doors this December for renovations that will last until the fall of 2021.
The renovation will be massive, with additions like wellness centers, classrooms and even another floor. The gym will gain more space, better equipment and, yes, air-conditioning, but the renovated War Memorial Gym may never be able to fill the void of the charming and shambly original.
Though many will welcome the new version with open arms, the impression and reputation made by the original’s will be gone but never forgotten. Let’s reminisce by walking through a typical yet simultaneously special trip to the soon-to-be old gym.
Upon walking into War Memorial Hall, the welcoming smell of chlorine is overwhelming and pungent. An observatory window displays the Olympic-sized pool on the lower floor, which is somehow rarely in use. There’s a deserted quality to the main floor, save a singular gym employee overseeing indoor court rentals for basketball, volleyball and racquetball. Walk past the sound of sneakers squeaking on the courts and down the stairs as the warm, sweaty air amplifies and wraps you in a warm embrace.
Behind a small booth at the bottom of the stairs are the warm and friendly faces of the gym staff. Swiping your Hokie Passport with a smile, they beckon you into the sauna-like cardio room. Upon entering, you wonder how it is physically possible to fit even a few pieces of equipment into such a small room. You also wonder how any of these people are able to move for more than 30 seconds in the stuffy air.
There is no telling how crowded War will be, so hopefully you can snatch a machine. You may notice that one treadmill feels faster than another at the same programmed speed or a part on one of the ellipticals is prone to falling off. Some may say this is dangerous, but really it adds a variety you just can’t get at any other gym; you never know what you’re going to get.
Along these lines, if you look around, you’ll see that while there are a lot of students, there are also a lot of Virginia Tech staff; people who are likely much older than you. You may even see one of your professors on the erg machine, knocking out intervals right next to you. Try not to openly express your horror; it’s all part of the experience.
If you’re looking to distract yourself from the heat and pungent smell, be sure to download any form of entertainment to your phone prior to descending into the gym. The subterranean location of War rarely allows for any kind of wireless connection to reach gym-goers. There are, however, several televisions set up that are tuned to various news and sports channels, offering images and closed captioning that definitely do not correspond to one another. Or you could look around the gym and judge the choice of clothing in the room. T-shirts, shorts and regular workout clothes are expected; but full length thermal leggings? In this environment? And jean shorts? The lack of dress code and diversity of style choice is beautiful to behold.
Once you’ve finished your workout, you will need to mop up your area. There aren’t any pre-soaked antibacterial wipes to sanitize your machine, but some good old-fashioned paper towels and a bottle of disinfectant instead. The experience of cleaning your sweaty residue may seem humbling, but it is really a badge of honor; you worked hard and everyone in the gym can tell.
Either way, you’re proud, and you finish your workout feeling as though the gym staff, your fellow students and even your professors are proud of you too because more than anything else, War Memorial Gym’s close quarters create a community. Other gyms boast of shamelessness and anti-gymtimidation, but War Memorial Gym is somewhere you can truly find ease.
It is difficult to imagine the renovated version coming close to the tradition and compraderie that has grown since War’s conception. All the broken machines, awkward interactions with gym goers and especially copious amounts of sweat have created an identity for a building that has been around since 1926. But you can definitely tell that it's almost been 100 years since it was built. Yes, it’s time for a change, and no amount of sentimentality or nostalgia can stop it. Let’s hope, if nothing else, the air conditioner works.