After eight faculty received notification that they would not be renewed, many students and alumni became enraged at The Steemer, the new athletic facility that is receiving its finishing touches over the next month. After being discussed and planned for the past five to 10 years, the price of the construction has ended around $50 million.
Vice President and Director of Athletics & Recreation, Gary Williams sat down for an interview with The Torch to discuss The Steemer and the reaction from students and alumni.
Before discussing the funding and building itself, Williams discussed the issues arising on campus and addressed the fact that the financial struggles on campus cannot be pinpointed to one specific area. He noted that the issues were due to a multitude of issues on campus that have stretched over many years. Williams also stated the difficulty of the entire situation.
“Right now, this time, this place, we have to enact change for long term sustainable, and its hard and its painful and none of us like what we have to do,” Williams said about the current situation on campus.
Later Williams also stated, “It is hard. There are human beings on both sides of this. This is a time for us to come together and sure not a time to pull us apart.”
Williams addressed the individuals who have been blaming The Steemer for the issues on campus.
“There isn’t anyone over here in our department that doesn’t want everyone at this place to be super successful and it is a struggle when you see people who lay blame and try to push us apart,” Williams said. “Because we need each other. Now more than ever we need each other.”
Williams noted his disappointment in the fact that people are not seeing what The Steemer can add to campus.
He also proudly noted that through fundraising for The Steemer, Wittenberg was able to raise over $25 million from donors specific to this project and many other gifts over the past four years which included money dedicated to student scholarships, endowed professorships and a $10 million gift for renovations to Koch Hall.
As for the building, Williams disclosed the following financial breakdown of the construction: $25 million fundraised through donors, $8 million from state and federal tax credits, and $15 million remaining to be fundraised or financed with long-term debt.
To put the project cost into perspective, Kenyon College invested over $70 million in their indoor athletic facility and Denison University recently completed a $38.5 million renovation to their own indoor facilities. These facilities were new constructions and had a sole focus of athletics, whereas Wittenberg’s build focused on multiple areas including athletic, academic, and recreational usage.
Rob Young, Chief Financial Officer for Wittenberg, confirmed the breakdown for financing of The Steemer as well.
Williams discussed the previous investment in the athletic facilities. He stated that other than 2015—when the turf for Edwards-Maurer Field was redone, which Williams stated was well overdue for replacement—there has not been a major renovation done since the 1982 HPER Center, which has created between $7-10 million in deferred maintenance that is being addressed with the current project.
When asked about what the facility would add to campus, Williams pointed to the many ways that the building can be utilized from athletics, to academic, and recreational. It now seems pretty unlikely that a Wittenberg student will go four years without stepping into the HWA facility with all it has to offer.
Williams also proudly noted that the state of the athletic facilities allows the university opportunities such as hosting a Division I basketball game between Ohio State and Valparaiso. He also suggested that many of the people that visit campus—even just for one game, match, or meet—comes for athletic events and the athletics facilities are already helping Wittenberg gain national recognition for the university and affecting recruiting.
As for what the building will add to athletics, Williams broke down just a few of the activities The Steemer can offer. The turf can be used for football practices, the baseball and softball teams can take infield practice, lacrosse can hold games in the facility, people can utilize the weight room, and—of course—track athletes can run on the new track.
Williams pointed to the collaboration between the coaching staff and facility usage for maximizing student athlete’s time. He used the example of athletes having an 11 p.m. practice and not having time afterwards to complete their homework. This may also lead to athletes getting more engaged on campus and having peace of mind about completing the necessary work at a reasonable hour. Further, Williams discussed the competitive edge the facility grants us with a full indoor turf field and the opportunity to utilize the space in the winter.
Williams isn’t the only one arguing how beneficial the facility will be to campus.
“I see the new facility as an opportunity for Wittenberg University and the Springfield community,” Nicole Karavakis (’18) stated. “It would create a space for year-round training for all students, faculty and staff members, while also providing the university the opportunity to impact its community through health and wellness programming, fitness classes and youth sports camps that will train the next generation of Tigers.”
Shannon Brueck (’19) discussed the need for more space for the athletic teams.
“The construction of a new facility would allow all of us as student-athletes [Brueck competed for the women’s soccer team] to train year-round more effectively and fulfill our academic obligations more efficiently,” Brueck said. “Right now, we have so many student-athletes and teams who are competing for limited playing and practice space at Wittenberg – as a soccer player, we have limited opportunities to use the gyms in the winter and the turf in the spring. I look forward the completion of this new facility, which will make a tremendously positive impact upon all aspects of the Wittenberg experience.”
Williams noted how important this moment is for Wittenberg.
“There is a tremendous opportunity ahead of us to utilize this facility to come together as a community,” Williams said, “and now, more than ever, we need to find a way to do so.”