Bridgewater's Athletic Facility to Get Facelift
By Karen Doss Bowman '91
As a player on the men’s basketball team, Bridgewater junior David Larson spends a lot of time outside of classes in Nininger Hall – from practices to workouts to Division III games. Larson was thrilled when he found out that the building will be getting a makeover, and anticipates that the expansion and transformation of the athletic facilities will be a bright spot and source of enthusiasm for the entire campus community.
“This just reminds me of how everyone has a new outlook and everyone’s feeling better once spring finally arrives, and I think that’s what these changes at Nininger are going to do for Bridgewater,” said Larson, a business administration and Spanish double major from Fairfax. “I’m excited about it. I love the gym – it’s got a lot of history in it – but it’s in need of modernization. It will be a great change.”
The transformation of Nininger Hall – home to Bridgewater’s athletic programs and the Department of Health and Human Sciences, the college’s largest academic department – comes with a $9 million price tag and includes 15,000 to 16,000 square feet of additional space, as well as a complete renovation of the existing structure.
Built in 1958, Nininger is the oldest student athletics facility in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and was last renovated in 1988. Since that time, the student body has grown by 79 percent, and the number of intercollegiate teams has expanded from 14 to 22, including the recent addition of women’s golf and men’s lacrosse.
“The building is very outdated, and we’ve maxed it out,” said athletic director and head baseball coach Curt Kendall. “We’ve taken every nook and cranny of the building and put in offices, workout spaces – whatever we needed – and we have no more free space.”
The new Nininger will feature event space, a flexible locker room area to accommodate multiple sports and a celebration area for the Athletic Hall of Fame. Faculty offices, classrooms locker rooms, strength and conditioning facilities, and the team room will be refurbished and equipped with upgraded equipment to meet 21st century standards. The gymnasium will get a stylish new look accented by permanent bleachers, splashes of crimson and gold colors, and prominent displays of the Eagles logo. Jopson Field also is included in the makeover, with a turf field and lights to be installed.
The additional square footage also will be large enough to bring together faculty and coaching staff from the athletics department and the department of health and human services, who currently are spread out in various locations across campus.
“As faculty, we will see our students more frequently because they often use the athletic facilities,” said Barbara Long, chair of the department of health and human services and director of athletic training. “That certainly gives us the opportunity to be accessible to them and to maintain close relationships with them.”
The first phase of the project – the addition to Nininger’s southwest corner overlooking Jopson Field – is set to begin after commencement in May, explained Anne Keeler, vice president for finance and treasurer. That section is scheduled for completion by the end of this year. After basketball season ends in March 2014, the second phase will begin and is expected to be completed by the time students return to campus in August.
“The building will stay in use during the entire process, so there will be some inconvenience, noise and disruption, so it will be uncomfortable throughout the process,” Keeler said. “It will require patience and tolerance from the faculty, staff and students who use the building frequently, but everyone is so excited about the expansion and renovation that they’re ready to put up with the temporary disturbances.”
The expansion and renovation are more than simply construction projects to enhance the physical plant. In fact, the effort to update the campus’ athletic center is closely aligned with the college’s emphasis on a holistic education that embraces academics, co-curricular activities and community.
“A Bridgewater education focuses on the whole person, and the student-athlete component of that is important,” said Keeler, pointing out that one-third of Bridgewater’s students are involved in intercollegiate athletics. “We want our student-athletes to be able to work out in a sound and high quality facility, and for our students in health and human sciences to have access to updated equipment in an inviting environment.”
Though the project already is moving forward, Keeler expressed gratitude for alumni and friends of the college who continue to provide financial support. The support for Nininger continues to be a key fund-raising goal, as contributions are valuable in relieving the need for financing and reducing the college’s debt burden.
“Even though we’re moving ahead with the project, support from our alumni continues to be very important,” Keeler said. “We especially hope that alumni who were athletes can appreciate what our student athletes need today. We’re hopeful that these former student athletes, and others who love Bridgewater, will step forward to support this project.”
Nininger Hall’s value extends beyond athletics, as the building also is an important gathering place for the entire campus community. It serves as the location for numerous events, including baccalaureate services, commencement exercises and convocations.
“Our athletic center tends to be a focal point for a lot of activities on campus,” said Keeler. “The student body gathers there quite often, so it becomes a touch point and symbol of the campus.”
Plans for the new Nininger will transform the currently outdated building into a more accurate representation of the quality of education taking place within its walls. That positive image may boost recruitment efforts, allowing Bridgewater to keep pace with the competition.
“You can sell your school and the academic programs and the beautiful, well-kept campus, but for athletes who spend a lot of time in the weight room or on the field, those facilities make a difference in how they view the campus,” Kendall said. “The new Nininger will be a big selling point for prospective students who are interested in athletics.”
Added Keeler: “There’s something to be said for campus pride. Nininger is a home base for all of our student athletes and the teams they play for, and they want to have pride in that building—both when they use the facility and when visitors come to play here.”