BLUFFTON — From a “barn” to an $18 million, 60,000-square-foot facility: Not bad.
Bluffton University looked back a little Tuesday while announcing plans for a new Health and Fitness Education Center. The new facility will get on its ways as soon as the final $3.8 million is raised.
Nicknamed “the Barn,” the school’s first indoor gymnasium was built in 1916 for $950. It remained until Founders Hall opened in 1952. Founders remains the home for basketball and volleyball games and other campus events.
“The need is clear and the time has come for Bluffton to achieve its third generation indoor athletics facility,” President James Harder said during his annual “President’s Forum.” An unveiling of the site, located just north of Marbeck Center, followed his address.
“Bluffton today clearly lacks the indoor court and fitness training space we need for all of our competitive and recreational athletic activities,” Harder said, saying there is also a growing need for space for the school’s health, fitness and sport science academic program.
Junior volleyball player Jenna Eshleman recalls other teams coming to Founders and deciding they didn’t need to take the Bluffton team seriously just based on the facility.
“I think being in the new building will help them realize we do have good athletics and we do have a good program,” she said.
The project is made possible through the school’s “Extending Our Reach — The Campaign for Bluffton,” the school’s largest-ever fundraising effort. The campaign already has raised more than $12 million dedicated to the $18 million project. Two million dollars will come from the school’s regular capital improvement budget.
The 60,000 square-foot “green” building will be the largest on campus. The facility will include competitive areas for basketball and volleyball, locker and team rooms, offices for coaches and health, fitness and sport science faculty, classroom space, a sports medicine center and a 5,000-square-foot weights and fitness center. An indoor walking/jogging track will circle the arena.
Freshman Ben Roeschley plays baseball and is involved with intramural sports. The baseball team uses the gymnasium for practice before being able to play outside in the spring.
“Currently, there is limited capacity for all the athletic needs on the campus. So this will be a really great thing,” he said. “The weight room is busy a lot. It is hard to get to some of the stuff you want to do.”
In total, $27 million has been raised by the “Extending Our Reach — The Campaign for Bluffton. The new facility is the largest component of the campaign. Construction won’t begin until all the money is raised.
“I can’t misrepresent the challenge that remains to raise the remaining $3.8 million and to undertake a project of this scale,” Harder said. “Still, we will get there, just as Bluffton once achieved “the Barn” and Founders Hall during earlier eras of our history.”