SCCC fitness center offering services previously not available to East End

It was a dream years, even decades, in the making.

Suffolk County Community College can now say that it provides all of its students on-campus access to a high-quality health and fitness experience, after unveiling the $22 million, 40,000-square-foot Health and Wellness Center on its Riverhead campus back in May. 

But students at the commuter school — who previously had to go to the Brentwood or Selden campuses for wellness-related activities and classes — are not the only ones benefiting from the new center. It is open to the public as well, and college officials say that’s a crucial part of why they were so determined to make it a reality.

The members and the community seem to be embracing it.

Chris Tempera

Neftali Collazo, SCCC’s associate dean of athletics and special events, said serving both populations was at the heart of the mission.

“We asked ourselves, how can we construct a facility that’s going to benefit not only our students, but our community, because we know that’s part of our mission,” he said.

The list of amenities at the facility is impressive, but without question, its crown jewel is an eight-lane, 25-yard indoor pool. The presence of the pool on the campus, which is technically located in Northampton, is particularly satisfying for East End residents. Formerly, there was no indoor swimming pool open to the public between the East Hampton and Patchogue YMCAs.

The fitness center features a climbing wall. (Credit: David Benthal)

The fact that some people would need to travel close to an hour to access an indoor swimming pool was a foreign concept for Chris Tempera, the wellness center’s on-site coordinator. Now, he’s seeing first-hand the positive experience it is creating for people in the greater Riverhead community and nearby towns on the North and South forks.

“I grew up in Sayville, and we have a pool in Sayville, so in high school we’d just go to the pool for gym class sometimes,” he said. “It didn’t dawn on me that it’s not like that out here. So I’m super excited that we’re open and I think we’re doing a great job, and the members and the community seem to be embracing it.”

There is plenty to embrace. 

The facility is aesthetically pleasing from the moment the doors open, with high ceilings and plenty of bright light filtering into both the fitness and pool areas, which lends a feeling of openness not present at other fitness and indoor pool facilities. The pool is heated, kept at 82 degrees, and has a diving board. Water aerobics classes, which are offered from 11 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays and Thursdays, are free with membership or cost $10 per class. There is plenty of equipment for swimmers looking to get a good workout, or to simply have some assistance in the water, including kickboards, noodles and water dumbbells. The pool and locker rooms are ADA-compliant and the men’s and women’s facilities have six showers and 62 lockers each. Each shower has a thermostat that shows the water temperature. Those wishing to use a locker must bring their own padlocks. There is also a family and handicapped-accessible bathroom, with its own toilet, shower and changing table that, like the other locker rooms, leads directly out to the pool. 

The college itself does not offer swim lessons, but rents the pool space to outside companies that give lessons on two days from 1 to 4 p.m.

The fitness center also has plenty to offer, including an eye-catching rock climbing wall with multi-colored stepping nodes. Tempera said in early December that the wall’s opening was imminent — both he and another colleague were currently in training to become rock wall certified. Once it’s open, the wall will be free for members to use and the college will also sell day passes to use it. 

The rock climbing wall is located at one end of an expansive fitness area stocked with brand-new Precor equipment, most of which includes a code that, when scanned with a smartphone, will take the user to a short YouTube video that shows them how to use the machines properly. There is also a full rack of free weights and dumbbells, with workout benches, as well as four elliptical machines, three treadmills and a recumbent bike, all equipped with heart rate monitors.

(Credit: David Benthal)

Across from the fitness area is a field house gymnasium with several basketball hoops. This is not open to the public because it is used mainly for physical education classes at the college, but is available for larger groups and companies to rent as an event space.

The price of membership at the facility is competitive, and even more affordable than other gyms and fitness centers throughout the area, according to Tempera. The only hitch is that the annual fee ($275 for Suffolk residents; $220 for seniors 60 and over) must be paid in full up front instead of on a monthly basis. Members have access to the facility seven days a week, during specified hours, to accommodate the students. The fitness center is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and then again from 5 to 9 p.m.; Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The weekend hours for the pool are the same. On weekdays, the pool is open to the public from 6 to 8 a.m., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.

Tempera and Collazo both said they couldn’t be happier that the facility is up and running, and hope that even more members of the public make it a part of their daily lives.

Collazo said New York state Sen. Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele were instrumental in keeping the dream of the facility alive over the decades it was in discussion, and made sure to point out how crucial their involvement has been.

“They were the driving force,” Collazo said. “This facility wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. It was a long time coming.”