Brighton weight facility gets raves, is expected to provide significant benefits

BRIGHTON — One of the first things John Thompson realized when he took over as Brighton High School’s athletic director was the need for a bigger weight room.

The room that athletes and phys ed students were using was woefully undersized for a school of well over 2,000 students.

For 13 years, Thompson brainstormed and looked to find ways to get a bigger, more modern facility built.

This week, the “pipe dream,” as he jokingly referred to it, is reality.

A panoramic view of the new Brighton High School weight facility, taken during a media availability on Wednesday. (Photo by Tim Robinson)
A panoramic view of the new Brighton High School weight facility, taken during a media availability on Wednesday. (Photo by Tim Robinson)
The Brighton High School pool area last fall, before it was converted into a weight room. (Photo courtesy Brighton Area Schools)
The Brighton High School pool area last fall, before it was converted into a weight room. (Photo courtesy Brighton Area Schools)

On Monday, the high school’s new strength and conditioning facility opened to rave reviews.

At 14,000 square feet, it’s nearly 10 times the size of the old facility, which was a converted classroom.

“When I first walked in, I was wowed,” sophomore Tara Garbarz said. “It’s just so huge and beautiful. Compared to our old weight room, it’s a big improvement.”

Dominic Fiorini, a Brighton swimmer, admitted to a bit of disorientation while standing on what used to be the deep end of the pool.

“It’s definitely a different feel,” he said, smiling.

Wrestling coach Tony Greathouse, who competed at Michigan State, was impressed.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “I’ve been at other Division 1 facilities, and this is just as good, if not better. We have a state-of-the-art facility and a state-of-the-art staff to help these guys.”

A look from the north end of the new Brighton weight facility shows the bleachers preserved from the room's previous use, as the Brighton High School pool. (Photo by Tim Robinson)
A look from the south end of the new Brighton weight facility shows the bleachers preserved from the room’s previous use, as the Brighton High School pool. (Photo by Tim Robinson)
A look from the south end of the Brighton High School pool during its conversion to a weight facility. Work took five months. (Photo courtesy of Brighton Area Schools)
A look from the same end of the room during its conversion. (Photo courtesy of Brighton Area Schools)

The bleachers remain; Thompson said the cost to take them out didn’t justify the minimal square-footage gained.

The corners of the room, where giant suns were painted, now feature large Bulldogs logos, and at the end opposite the bleachers is a picture of the championship rings won by Brighton teams with the question “Who’s next?”

As with everything Thompson does, the photo has a purpose.

“The rings signify some successes we’ve had in the past, but it you read the words under them, it’s about what’s ahead,” he said. “The question is, Who’s next? Who’s going to be the next team to win a state championship at Brighton. Who’s going to be the next individual to win a state championship at Brighton? We’re about what’s ahead. We’re proud of our past, and it provides a great foundation, but the challenge for the kids that are looking ahead.”

The numbers

  • Cost: Between $800-850,000 for construction, $335,000 for equipment, which will include: bobcats, graders, excavator and trenchers. 
  • Size: 14,000 square feet, big enough to allow entire programs, or multiple teams, the room to work out comfortably.
  • Students involved in athletes at Brighton: 1,000, or nearly half the student body.  That doesn’t include the hundreds who are in physical education classes.
  • Time of construction: Five months.
  • Amount of dirt used to fill in the pool: “A lot,” joked Scott Jacobs, the on-site superintendent for the George W. Auch Company, which has been the lead contractor on the projects funded by the $88 million bond taxpayers passed in 2013. “We filled it in with broken concrete from the locker rooms we remodeled, and then with concrete slurry. “This was a very fun project,” said Jacobs, a Brighton alum. “One of the more exciting projects to do.”

    A look at the former pool after it was filled in. (Photo courtesy Brighton Area Schools)
    A look at the former pool after it was filled in. (Photo courtesy Brighton Area Schools)
  • Platforms for weight lifting: Eighteen. “That’s unheard-of in a high school,” said new Brighton strength coach Jake Henderson. “Usually you have three or four, if you’re lucky. some schools, none. This is one of the best facilities you could ever ask for.” One of the platforms employs air as resistance, rather than iron.  “For our students who may have physical disabilities, are wheelchair-bound or have other issues, it allows us to put them in a safe environment and still get some work done during phys ed class,” Thompson said.
  • What’s next: The facility will open to the public on May 2. Details are still being worked out, Thompson said.

The history

Thompson originally envisioned building a weight room to replace a cul-de-sac outside of the hallway between the field house and the auxiliary gym.

“It costs a lot more to build new than it does to renovate,” Thompson said. “As we passed the bond and had a new pool in the bond, it was a natural to fill (the old pool) in and use the space.”

To run the facility, Brighton Area Schools contracted with Barwis Methods, a company created by former University of Michigan strength coach Mike Barwis. Henderson and his staff are employed by Barwis Methods.

“This is the best high school facility I’ve seen, that’s for sure,” Henderson said. “This blows most college out of the water. I know Mike was saying this is bigger than Michigan’s strength and conditioning center.”

With so much space and so many kids using the facility, Henderson says there will be an adjustment period, but is excited about the challenge.

“The sky’s the limit, as far as what we can do,” he said. “We’re not limited to the size of the  weight room or how many people we can have in here. We can put in five teams in here at once and they’re not all crammed in.”

The size, according to football coach Brian Lemons, leads to safety through supervision.

Having all these players in the same spot makes supervising a lot easier,” he said. “From a coaching standpoint and an instructional standpoint, having the close proximity, as large as it is, you’re still in the same space, that helps as well. Myself and Tony (Greathouse), using the classroom in here as much as we do, it’s a great space to have.”

The reviews

“Awe, pretty much,” junior Nick Crocker said, asked his first impression. “I’ve been in weight rooms this size before, but nothing this nice and this pretty. This is amazing, and the fact we have trainers in here helping us out, … it’s great, and it shows the dedication we have to this program and what we can do.”

Crocker was talking about the football program, with which he was participating in a offseason team workout. But several people asked talked about the advantages of multiple teams working together, rather than in isolation as in years past.

“It was kind of funny,” said Garbarz, a sophomore on the Brighton cheer team, “because the girls lacrosse team and us, we don’t butt heads, but they think they’re stronger thand us and we think we’re equally as strong as them. Yesterday we were in there and they saw we did just as much as them. There’s a mutual respect.”

Brighton girls track coach Gera Gee agrees.

“What this weight room is going to do for us is that it’s bringing the football players and the lacrosse players and the golf… everyone together,”she said. “What excites me is when the girls are in there lifting and training, and a guy sees a girl is putting up weight. He’s going to have respect for her, and it’s mutual, and I think it’s going to build a cameraderie and a mutual respect among the athletes and the teams. For that reason I’m very excited.”

Kasey Codd, a captain on the Brighton soccer team, said she was “blown away” on her first look at the facility. She says the excitement isn’t limited to athletes.

“They’re all excited to be here and looking for time slots when teams aren’t in here,” she said. “Kids who aren’t athletes are super excited about this. The  community is going to use this so much more than was anticipated.”

“Short term, we’ll have people in here all the time,” Crocker said. “No one wanted to go into the old weight room. They see this, they’ll want to do something, and I think that will help us, short-term, into next season.”

The goal

The new facility is one of the final projects funded by the bond. A new running track in the field house is next on the list. The old weight room will become a dance studio.

The entire bond has gone toward upgrading facilities and buildings in the district, but Thompson says the weight room will go beyond that.

“We tried to get done what we could get done in that little classroom,” he said. “Now, basically, we’re moving to a culture of there’s no excuses. I mean, we’ll be open seven days a week. If you can’t figure out, as a team or an individual, how to get in here 2-3 times a week to enhance your well-being, well, that’s on you.

“At a certain juncture, that will become the norm, because if you’re not doing it, someone else is going to take your spot, because they’re putting the work in,” he added.

“Before, with our limitations, we made our best efforts, but it was catch-as-catch-can. We were working out, but not to this level and not to this scope and not touching all 32 programs across the board, and not being able to do it during the school day in a manner that should be befitting a first-class curriculum. That wasn’t our teachers’ fault, it was a limitation of the facility and the space and the equipment. Those limitations are gone for our faculty and our coaches, and those excuses are gone for our kids.”

“It’s amazing,” Fiorini said. “The funds that got us this stuff, I can’t be thankful enough. The coaches got us organized. Now it’s up to us to put in the work and put the sweat and blood and  tears in here.”

“In the short term, we’ll get more attendance at workouts, because of the hype surrounding the facility,” Lemons said. “Long-term, our freshmen and eighth-graders are going to see the most benefits. But even our sophomores will have a good year or two in it. It’s going to take a couple of days, weeks, to figure out the nuances and how it works best for us, but in the first week here we’re finding  very few glitches.”

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