Wittenberg University has received $3.9 million in federal historic tax incentives to restore its 1930 field house as part of a $40.5 million athletic facilities expansion scheduled to begin next year.
The award from the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives program was announced by the National Park Service this week.
“We really believe this is a vote of confidence in the project,” said Wendy Kobler, the university’s vice president for advancement. “It’s always great to have the opportunity to receive outside support for an entity that’s going to benefit not just Wittenberg, but the Greater Springfield community.”
The school has about 1,700 students, 350 employees and an operating budget of about $50 million. It currently brings about 3,500 visitors to Springfield each year with an estimated economic impact of $70 million annually, according to Wittenberg officials.
The renovation project has received a total of $8.4 million in federal and state historic tax credits for the project, including $4.5 million in Ohio Historic Preservation Tax credits awarded by the state in December.
In addition to renovation of both the 1930 field house and the 1982 Health, Physical Education and Recreation Center, the university’s plan includes the construction of a new 125,000-square-foot indoor athletic facility attached to the north end of the HPER Center.
The university has raised about $25.3 million of the money needed to construct the Health, Wellness and Athletics Complex, Kobler said.
A $2 million endowment is included in the plan to allow the facility to run smoothly in the future.
The fundraising is on schedule for the project to break ground in March 2017, with construction taking about 18 months.
The campus has about 600 athletes who play 24 varsity sports. The new facilities are designed to increase student success and student retention, Kobler said.
“This building will touch the lives of all the students at Wittenberg,” Kobler said.
A building must be listed on the national register or contribute to a historic district to be eligible to receive federal historic tax credits, according to the National Park Service’s website. The Wittenberg University historic district, roughly bounded by Bill Edwards Drive, West Ward Street, North Fountain Avenue and Plum Street, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in March 2014.
Last year, Wittenberg asked the Clark County Convention Facilities Authority — a board designed to enhance local venues with tourism efforts — to pledge $750,000 to the project over the next three years. The board agreed in March to provide $375,000 for the project.
The new center will house a 100-yard artificial turf for football, soccer and other sports and a 300-meter indoor track.
Other planned upgrades include:
• New weight room;
• Strength training and wellness center;
• Technology-enabled classroom spaces for programs like the school’s new exercise science major;
• Updated locker rooms and alumni/recruiting lounge;
• Special event spaces;
• Improvements to the football press box; and
• New court surfaces for tennis, volleyball and basketball courts.
Wittenberg could also convert some of its land along McCreight Avenue into parking.
The preservation of the field house is great news for both Springfield and the university, said Becky Krieger, chairwoman of the Springfield Landmarks Commission and a Wittenberg graduate.
“I love the old gym, I love the facade of that building,” Krieger said. “If they’re going to be maintaining that, I’m amazingly happy.”
The landmarks commission would be interested in placing the field house on the local historic register, Krieger said. Wittenberg’s Myers Hall was placed on the initial list of Springfield Register of Historic Properties, while other buildings were recommended for the designation last year, including Recitation Hall.
Landmarks commissioners haven’t discussed the list at recent meetings, Krieger said.
“We’ve been working on other things,” Krieger said.
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