By Conner Gilbert
On October 27, 2017, Penn State Altoona hosted a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly renovated and expanded Steven A. Adler Athletic Complex. The ceremony was a moment of celebration and triumph, allowing faculty, staff, students, and community members an opportunity to see the fruition of a nearly two-year construction project. The $24.5 million undertaking updated and expanded the building, giving it the first significant improvements since the 1970s.
The updated Adler Athletic Complex directly benefits a large portion of the Penn State Altoona campus community, including its NCAA Division III varsity sports, intramural and recreation, fitness and weight training, and the new four-year kinesiology degree program.
“This project will have an extraordinary and permanent impact on Penn State Altoona and our community by promoting educational and cultural outreach and enhancing the quality of our academic and athletic programming,” said Penn State Altoona Chancellor and Dean Dr. Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry. “Our students deserve to have top-notch facilities.”
Simply put, the updated Adler Athletic Complex will improve the experiences of current Penn State Altoona students while keeping the campus competitive in attracting prospective students.
In the years prior to the start of the Adler renovation and expansion project, it was increasingly apparent that Penn State Altoona had outgrown its athletics facility and was in need of an upgrade.
The Adler Athletic Complex was constructed in 1972 to serve as the campus’s hub for sports and recreation. The original building consisted of a gymnasium and locker rooms. A renovation project in 1978 added additional locker rooms, racquetball courts, a swimming pool, and a multipurpose space. At that time, Penn State Altoona’s enrollment was approximately 2,000 students, and Adler’s amenities were more than enough to support the campus community.
But as the campus grew in the following years, Adler was insufficient for the needs of students, staff, and faculty. By 1997, Penn State Altoona had resurrected its intercollegiate athletics program, and by 2014 the department had expanded to sponsor 14 NCAA Division III varsity sports teams. Additionally, a rising enrollment that approached 4,000 students demanded larger fitness and weight training facilities, more space to support recreational and intramural activities, and classrooms and offices to support the coming addition of a four-year kinesiology degree program.
“The Adler Complex served us well for over 40 years, but we just outgrew the facility,” said Penn State Altoona Director of Athletics Brent Baird. “Our varsity athletics teams and recreational programs needed more space to grow and prosper. The demands on our facility far outpaced the ability to hold events. Adler has always been a centerpiece to campus life, and it needed a total makeover.”
The hopes of Penn State Altoona’s administration became reality on November 20, 2015, when plans and funding for a renovation and expansion project were officially approved by the Penn State Board of Trustees.
“For a number of months, the Adler project was on and off due to budget constraints. It was a frustrating time as we had already gone through so much planning for the new building,” Baird stated. “Then, in November 2015, I sat in a Smith Building [main administrative building at Penn State Altoona] hallway with then-interim Associate Dean Barbara Wiens-Tuers and watched the live stream of the Board of Trustees meeting in which we received final approval for the project. I jumped up and headed back to work planning for the project. It was a great relief that we could officially get started.”
Funding for the construction project was secured from a variety of sources, including the Department of General Services, the student facilities fee, the Facilities Resources Committee, the University Access Committee, and the President’s Facility Initiative. The project plans, drafted by Weber Murphy Fox of Erie, Pennsylvania, were tirelessly modified and amended before reaching a final design. On January 21, 2016, Penn State Altoona held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Adler project, and construction ensued in the following days. J.C. Orr & Son, Inc. was brought on board to manage the construction project as the general contractor.
An impressive facility
In August 2017, the first of three construction phases was completed, allowing the campus community to use the Adler arena and the auxiliary gym – an existing gym that remained a part of the new complex – the athletics program office suite, the Reliance Bank Fitness Center, and the kinesiology wing.
Penn State Altoona Athletics benefitted from its new home immediately. The office suite provides individual workplaces for the program’s administrative staff and coaches and houses media and conference rooms complete with space for meetings and technology to support team film study. The new Adler arena provides a home court for Penn State Altoona’s men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball teams and features bleacher seating for 2,200 people and upgraded technology, such as a large high-definition display board. New locker rooms provide more space to accommodate Penn State Altoona’s varsity student-athletes and visiting teams. A new athletic training office offers more efficient treatment for the athletes.
“I cannot express how much this project means to the future of our Athletics program,” Baird said. “The facilities are impressive to recruits, can support our current athletes, and keep our staff together in one place. It is great to see the athletes come in and spend time with the coaches and staff. The new facilities, such as the athletics training room, allow us to provide support services that we were lacking in the past.”
Beyond the realm of varsity athletics, the new Adler facilities offer a much-improved experience for students, staff, and faculty who wish to stay involved in physical fitness and recreational activities. The two-floor Reliance Bank Fitness Center features state-of-the-art cardio and weight training equipment. The Adler arena and auxiliary gym are both open for recreational activities, intramural sports, and fitness classes. The complex also serves as headquarters for club sports.
“The new facility allows us to have multiple activities going on simultaneously. In the past, we were limited with one gymnasium, and that space was shared with kinesiology classes, varsity athletics practices and games, club sports, intramurals, and student life programming,” said John Carey, Penn State Altoona director of recreation and facilities for the Athletics program. “Now, students, staff, and faculty will be able to take advantage of a fully functional facility at the same time for their fitness interests.”
The new four-year kinesiology degree program at Penn State Altoona also gets a home in the Adler Athletic Complex. The two-floor kinesiology wing is comprised of six classrooms, four research laboratories, and seven offices designated to support the major’s three options: movement science, exercise science with an emphasis in business, and exercise science with an emphasis in science. The program is an important addition to Penn State Altoona’s academic offerings, helping in the recruitment of prospective students and the retention of undergraduates to the Altoona campus.
The new amenities of the Adler Athletic Complex will be used for a wide variety of programming, such as concerts, dinners, festivals, and speakers. These types of events will benefit the campus community and enhance Penn State Altoona’s positive impact on the local community by offering programming open to the general public.
“Hundreds of thousands of people enter the complex in a given year,” said Bechtel-Wherry. “Our community members have provided unwavering support for our campus for almost 80 years, and they deserve to have a beautiful space to enjoy all manner of events.”
A bright future
While several sections of Adler were opened for use with the completion of phase one, construction for phases two and three are expected to be complete by the end of December 2017.
Included in the final phases are several key areas of the building. The Adler natatorium, home facility of the varsity men’s and women’s swimming teams, also utilized by members of both the campus population and community, will sport a new pool, deck, and bleacher area that overlooks the water. New tennis courts will be installed outside of Adler for use as home courts of the varsity men’s and women’s tennis teams and for campus and community recreation. Additionally, the finishing touches will be put on multipurpose rooms used for activities such as fitness classes and meetings.
“This was a very complex project, due to the need to use sections of the building while construction was going on,” Baird explained. “The last phases of construction were on the core of the original 1970s building, and that included the locker rooms, racquetball courts, and the [multipurpose space] Brown Room. These areas were some of the most challenging, and work couldn’t begin until staff vacated the space at the end of the spring 2017 semester. We were very lucky, through good management of the project, that we were able to complete such major renovations to the natatorium. While only minor upgrades were initially planned, we have been able to give it a total makeover.”
For Penn State Altoona, the new Adler Athletic Complex is already a source of pride and a great asset to the campus.
“As I recall all of the games, dances, speakers, recreational tournaments, classes, festivals, and events that have happened in Adler over the years, it is amazing to think of the number of students and community members who have walked through those doors,” said Baird. “Now, it is so exciting to think of the potential of programs to come in the new facility. Everyone at Penn State Altoona and in the local community has something to be proud of, and we all can look forward to a bright future.”