New Wittenberg facility draws crowds to opening

Red and white balloons were as far as the eye could see, the smell of fresh paint hung in the air and a lot of eyes widened as Wittenberg University officially unveiled its renovated Health, Wellness and Athletics Complex with a dedication and grand opening celebration Friday evening.

About 400 people attended the dedication, including Wittenberg alumni, students and staff and several state and local dignitaries, followed by an open house that allowed community members to tour the $50 million, 265,000-square-foot complex.

This is Wittenberg’s homecoming and reunion weekend, which draws several more people to the campus for various related activities.

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Much of the activity was focused in the new 135,000-foot area known as “The Steemer,” which includes a 120-yard artificial playing surface, 300-meter track, strength and conditioning room, press box and more.

Attending dignitaries, some of whom presented proclamations, included U.S. Congressman Warren Davidson, Ohio Senator Bob Hackett and Ohio Representative Kyle Koehler.

Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland has the distinction of being a longtime Wittenberg professor and part of the local government that saw this project bloom right through to the finish.

“The most valuable thing is this makes Springfield a better place,” he told the crowd. “It’s a privilege for me to recognize this day in Springfield.”

Along with a being a valuable place for Wittenberg athletes and students to practice and learn, many of the attendees and speakers talked about how the complex will be a benefit for the Springfield community.

While nothing specific was offered, several school officials mentioned making the facility for the public as well.

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Wittenberg President Dr. Michael Frandsen later talked about how the community is already invited to attend university sporting events for free and there will be several more opportunities with the new facility.

“I imagine this as a place to invite the community in, not just on this turf but with meeting rooms for companies to do business and the city to do meetings in a 120-seat classroom. There are lots of opportunities,” he said.

Wes Bates, the 1970 Wittenberg alum and chairman and CEO of Stanley Steemer, who made a sizeable financial gift toward the facility and where the facility nickname originated from, is hopeful as well for future generations of local kids.

“This is for Springfield; think of it as an investment we made for Springfield and Wittenberg,” Bates said. “I want to see kids from Springfield come here.”

Wittenberg Director of Athletics and Recreation Gary Williams’s keyword was humbling, gazing at the facility for a school of Wittenberg’s size to have such a place.

Wittenberg alum Lynn Rambo, who lives in Springfield, dropped by to see the new facility, glad for the chance to see what’s inside the large structure she’d only viewed from the outside.

“It’s a great opportunity for the public to see what’s here,” said Rambo, who looks forward to activities she can bring her grandchildren to.

The artificial playing surface was one of the most popular Steemer destinations on Friday, as several people trod on it, including children tossing a football and several student athletes there to meet the visitors.

It was where Doug Schantz, Wittenberg’s Director of the Office of Student Financial Services, was found handling lacrosse equipment and getting pointers from senior player Tony LeBarge.

Schantz confessed he had never experienced or knew much about the game, but figured this was as good an opportunity as any.

“I asked, he taught me,” said Schantz.

For LeBarge, it was like passing the game on since he’ll graduate next year and one of the last opportunities to pursue the game he’s played since third grade. The Tiger lacrosse squad will be one of the first competitions in the Steemer next February.

For Springfield native Schantz, it was a chance to learn something new in his place of employment, though he smiled and declined to try the pole vault pit situated at the back of the facility. He’s also glad for how the complex will be another boon for the community.

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