Updated Mon, Oct 10, 2011 6:26 pm
Ten years of planning, $8.9 million in donations, and countless hours of speculation and anticipation will pay off for Ohio University in the near future.
A proposed indoor athletic facility, to be built on the practice fields next to Peden Stadium, will not only give varsity teams refuge from harsh weather, but will also give students another opportunity for campus recreation and will benefit the entire Athens community.
“I’m excited for the whole university,” Ohio Athletic Director Jim Schaus said. “It goes far beyond athletics. It will help our recruiting and help our teams become successful, but it will also help the institution.”
While there is still some work to be done to reach the final fundraising goal of $11 million, a generous $8 million gift from the Walter family of Columbus jump-started a campaign which has generated an additional $900,000.
While the slow economy has been a roadblock for the project in the past, Schaus is confident that the project will be completed within the next few years.
“Things are better, while definitely not perfect yet.,” he said. “We’ve been very well received, there has been a lot of interest in it. The donors understand the value of it. I think it’s going extremely well right now.”
The athletic department isn’t finished asking for money yet.
“The project is unclear on what the final cost will be,” Schaus said. “The university has only done some general estimates. We’re going to exhaust all our possibilities in fundraising and see what that buys.”
Features of the facility will not be finalized until fundraising is complete, but the university hopes to include at least a partial artificial field, some storage space and restrooms.
All features aside, the best part about the building, at least for football coach Frank Solich, is giving his team to practice during winter months.
“It will get extensive use in offseason. Quarterbacks want to throw the ball year round and receivers want to catch year round. This facility will give us an opportunity to do that,” Solich said.
However, Ohio won’t simply just use the building for training, It hopes to use the facility as a tool to attract better athletes to Athens.
“I do [think teams are at a recruiting disadvantage without an indoor facility]," Schaus said. “But just the promise of this project a year ago led to maybe one of the best [football] recruiting classes we have ever had.”
“I don’t think there is any question (the facility had an affect on our recruiting class),” he said. “They knew where we were in terms of raising money, and there was no question that was one of the best recruiting classes we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
The facility seems to be having an effect on this years recruiting class as well. Having already gotten verbal commitments from players as far away as New York and Florida, the Bobcats are well on their way to building another great recruiting class. Ohio recently offered John Tanner, a senior tight end and defensive lineman at Moeller High School in Cincinnati, a football scholarship. He says the facility will factor in his final decision.
“It will definitely be something I look for,” Tanner said. “It’s one of those things that will make me better as a player, especially in the offseason. I’ll be able to train and run without freezing my butt off outside.”
Ohio's baseball team would stand to benefit from the facility as well, especially in the early season.
“The first games that we play…We go down south to tournaments in South Carolina. They’ve already been in good weather for a while,” Schaus said. “We’re not prepared and we usually lose a lot early.”
With all the talk about how the facility will play into athletics, it is easy to forget just how much it will impact the rest of the campus. The structure will not only house athletic teams, but classes, intramural and club sports, the ROTC program and the Marching 110. The entire Athens community would also have access to the building during select weekend events.
“I think it is a facility that will be used from 6 a.m. to midnight,” Schaus said. “Athletics will use this building a whole lot less than 50 percent of the time. We’re fine with that. We’re raising the money but we’re sharing that use with other students.”
While the entire university will be using the facility, the athletic department alone has been charged with fundraising. Schaus isn’t complaining about the extra workload.
“The sooner it gets built, the more it starts benefitting our University.”
It is no secret that Ohio University has fallen on some hard times recently. Just last year, the University was forced to cut budgets across the board in order to relieve debt. Some speculate that funds could be better used within the University. However, it may come as a surprise that the University itself is not paying a single cent for the building.
“This is a project that is donor-driven. So it’s not university money that is being put into the project,” Schaus said. “Money is not being transferred from academics to it.”
According to Ohio's fourth-year athletic director, this is not how other schools have done it.
“In most of the facilities that are built (including the 10 MAC schools that have one), athletics contributes to the financing but they didn’t even contribute half the cost. The university paid for it because the rest of campus would use it.”
Despite all the roadblocks, the facility seems to be well on its way to being completed in the next few years. Fundraising should be completed in the next few months, and after about a year of construction, the facility will be open.
“I’d love to see it built in the next year or two. That’s our goal,” says Schaus. “I wish it was built today.”
Alumni, get your checkbooks ready.