Facelift For BC
Goal: Facilities That Attract Recruits
Posted: January 3, 2013
HARRISONBURG – Don Burgess fondly recalls the days when, as a kid growing up in Harrisonburg, he attended Bridgewater College basketball games at a packed-and-rocking Nininger Hall. Now, as the 41-year-old Burgess patrols the sidelines as the school’s men’s basketball coach, he appreciates the sentimental value of the arena – it’s still “a small, quaint gym where every seat’s a great seat,” he said — but he sees an unfortunate flipside.
Nininger Hall is old, outdated and small — and that’s a disadvantage for BC’s coaches in recruiting.
To help remedy that, BC is beginning a $9 million renovation project of its athletics facilities, including the first addition to Nininger Hall since 1988. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in May and the target completion date is August 2014, BC communications director Abbie Parkhurst said. She said the school’s board of trustees approved the project over a year ago.
It’s just the fourth addition to Nininger, which opened in 1958.
“The parents appreciate it [the current Nininger Hall] more on the tours, because they can see the history,” Burgess said. “…But these student-athletes in the new age here, when they see it, they’re like, ‘Wow, this is an old gym.’”
Generally speaking, that’s not a good thing to hear a recruit say in an era in which college athletic departments at all levels are funding the construction of flashy new facilities. Schools in the Division III Old Dominion Athletic Conference are no exception.
Nearly every school in the ODAC — which has 12 teams in both men’s and women’s basketball, and eight in football – has made major renovations to its athletics facilities in the last 10 years, and two schools have built new facilities in that span: Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon. That’s despite BC having the second-largest athletics budget in the ODAC, $2.9 million, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s website. Still, Parkhurst said, budgetary constraints prevented BC from renovating its athletics facilities earlier.
BC’s football stadium also is included in the $9 million project, with Jopson Field getting lights and switching from natural grass to artificial turf.
Bridgewater is one of only two ODAC schools without an artificial-turf game field, and that was the primary motivator for the switch, Parkhurst said. The lights, of course, will allow BC’s football team to play at night for the first time.
“It’s important for recruitment of [athletes], and our football players in particular, that we have this facility and that we have the turf field, so that we can be competitive with the other ODAC schools,” Parkhurst said.
While BC football coach Michael Clark said he believes that Jopson Field, which currently is Bermuda grass, is already “a beautiful facility,” he’s not opposed to artificial turf – especially because it’s cheaper in the long-term because it requires less maintenance.
“The development of the FieldTurfs, they’re different than the turfs of five, 10, 15 years ago,” Clark said. “I think they’ve just kind of evolved. I think when you talk about the use and the cost-effectiveness over time, the FieldTurfs are probably a pretty good investment.”
BC athletic director Curt Kendall directed initial questions about the project to Parkhurst and could not be reached for comment in time for this story.
According to the school, 89 percent of athletes recruited by BC go elsewhere. The school, in a statement on its website explaining the project, cites inadequate athletics facilities as one reason why.
Obviously, plenty of other factors could explain why recruits haven’t picked BC in the past. But outdated buildings apparently haven’t helped, though Burgess said the impact has not been great.
“I don’t think that we’ve lost a handful of recruits to that, but we have had recruits where, unfortunately, some schools might have been ranked a little higher than us because of a facility,” Burgess said.
The renovation is not expected to interfere with the 2013-14 basketball season. Construction on the arena is scheduled to take place before and after the season.
As for size, Parkhurst said the school is still finalizing the number of seats the arena will contain but that she expects capacity — now 1,100 — to remain about the same. Even so, Nininger overall will be expanded, giving the multi-purpose athletics facility a bigger appearance, even if the arena itself doesn’t expand.
The turf field, which BC is hoping will be ready for use by the 2014 football season, is the project’s biggest luxury. Much of the work to Nininger is being done by necessity.
Since the last addition to Nininger in 1988, BC’s enrollment has increased by 79 percent to nearly 1,750, and the number of varsity sports has increased from 14 to 22. The school has made the most of every square inch of space at the old building, and now, coaches say, Nininger is at its breaking point.
“You can only renovate racquetball courts and closets for so long,” BC football coach Michael Clark said.
That’s why, in addition to a nicer basketball gym, the expanded Nininger will have an additional 15,000 to 16,000 square feet of space. There will be new and bigger locker rooms, a new weight room, a new Hall of Fame room and a new lobby.
Pictures of what the new Nininger will look like are posted on BC’s athletics website, and both Clark and Burgess said they’re already using them as a recruiting tool.
Even if a little history gets lost, BC’s coaches agree that new is definitely improved.
“For me to make sense of what I do at the end of the day, I have to look kids in the eye and say, ‘What you invested was well-spent,’” Clark said. “I think this will enhance their experience.”