Wittenberg eyeing $15-$20 million sports facility

Location would be flanked by HPER Center, football field, tennis courts and McCreight Ave.

Wittenberg University is considering building a $15-20 million indoor field with artificial turf to serve its intercollegiate and club teams, intramural program and general student population.

The university is close to naming a committee that will recommend what’s to be included in the facility, officials said.

“We have a group of people who are keen to participate in the project,” Interim Athletic Director Jeff Ankrom said.

The facility likely will be built north of Wittenberg’s HPER Center in the area flanked by the Albright Tennis Complex, Edwards-Maurer Field and homes along the south side of McCreight Avenue.

“A third of our students come to participate in varsity athletics,” Ankrom said, and between men’s and women’s varsity and club programs and intramurals, there’s a “constant demand for space” that often keeps the lights burning late at Edwards-Maurer Field.

Half the money for the facility has been pledged by Wesley and Ann Bates. He is chairman and CEO of Stanley Steemer, and both are 1970 graudates of Wittenberg. Wesley Bates also is a member of the Wittenberg board of trustees.

Bill Martin, a Wittenberg alum and former athletic director at the University of Michigan, said the health of the university as well as its students is likely tied to a new facility.

“We don’t want to become a sedentary nation,” Martin said. “We don’t want everybody looking at a computer screen all day and then an X-box.”

“It’s an understatement to say that Wittenberg’s facilities are not up to standard with our peer institutions” and NCAA Division III schools in general, said Martin, who toured the current facilities with university coaches.

He predicted a new facility would be “a huge shot of adrenaline for Wittenberg. And it goes to the ability to recruit more students and better qualified students.

“There’s an obvious ability to increase our class size,” he said, which has important financial implications for Wittenberg at a time when higher education is stagnating and the university faces a competitive market for a limited pool of liberal arts students.

The likely multi-purpose nature of the building was signaled by Ankrom’s objection to calling it an in indoor practice field, a term that might seem to reserve it for the football team.

“It will serve all our field sports,” he said. “We won’t make it just a football facility, just a lacrosse facility. It’s going to support men’s and women’s sports.”

He said the “super-duper wish list” would include an indoor track, which the university lacks, “and some people think we should put in the equipment that would be needed to support an exercise science program.”

That might have the potential for adding an academic program to the university that could again boost student recruitment.

It’s because of such complexities that projects like this are subject to “a lengthy process in which all kinds of people in the (university) community have a chance to say what they’d like,” Ankrom said.

Martin, who considers the indoor track a must, said the facility could be “the centerpiece for updating all the sports facilities at Wittenberg.”

“The stadium needs some help, too,” he said, “but you can’t do everything at once.”

Martin added the quality of the facility will be critical.

The buildings at academic institutions “should reflect a long life,” he said, and blend into the campus architecture.

Although Martin won’t serve on the committee, he said that, as an alumn, “What I don’t want to see is a cheap metal building that goes up and looks like a steel or metal warehouse on the outside of Columbus.”

Ankrom said expectations for the building will be balanced by constraints of budget and space: “The bigger you make it, the more you push up against those things.”

He said he doesn’t have a firm handle on the timeline involved.

The committee is “almost formed,” he said, and “I would think the group could start doing some work and planning in the spring semester. A certain amount of money has to be raised or promised before you start (working on) those architectural plans.”

“Once we hammer out those architectural plans, we’ll know a lot more.”

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