New lobby. New weight room. New performance gym. New flooring. Yes, a new version of the PLEX is on the way, and HU students are eager to see it.
By Hope Eberly, Contributor
“Every single day the team and I are in the PLEX,” said Nick Rensberger, a junior public relations and marketing major. “Typically early in the mornings and then later in the day we’ll show up too.”
Rensberger plays for HU’s baseball team.
“I know there’s been a plan for the PLEX to get renovated, but when is it going to start?” said Rensberger.
The Merillat Complex & Fieldhouse (PLEX) is one of the most used buildings on campus. It serves the athletes, non-althetes, and the community as well. Almost everything inside the building will be impacted by remodeling in some way, shape, or form, from students working out in the weight room to community members in the stands.
“Every part of the PLEX will be touched in some fashion,” said Russ Degitz, chief operations officer, “whether it’s a lighter renovation or a completely new part of the building. The idea is to make it match our growth and athletics, match the needs of our general student population, and the needs of our community.”
The PLEX was completed in 1973 and opened in 1974. A substantial remodeling occurred in 1991. Since then, a number of smaller modifications have occurred, including locker room upgrades, new bleachers in Platt Arena, office upgrades, training room improvements, among other things.
With the approval of the Huntington University Board of Trustees, HU raised its original $4.6 million investment to $13.1 million, which includes adding a third performance gym, upgrading Platt Arena, creating new training and wellness facilities, and renovating the lobby.
“It’s the biggest capital project the university has undertaken since the science hall was built twenty years ago, so it’s a big deal,” said Degitz. “Our vision for that is to make it the premier competition space in the Crossroads League. In our athletic conference, we want teams to come in and say, ‘Wow, I’d love to play for HU because that’s really cool.’”
Universities and colleges around the United States have been renovating and modernizing their old campuses in the hopes of attracting more students and increasing campus use. Leslie Vollbrecht, an interior designer, writes in Clark Nexsen that finding ways to repurpose, adaptively reuse, and rejuvenate existing facilities can help develop a more sustainable and cost-effective model for boosting educational opportunities and the campus experience.
While student improvement is critical, Degitz says the university also wants the community and supporters to be a part of the remodeling process.
“We want fans when they come in to feel like they’re at a division one venue or professional sports-type venue—really engaging a lot more than just going and watching the game, which is great, but we want them to feel a part of things,” said Degitz.
Student athletes are anxious to see new upgrades to the PLEX after a long period of nothing being done.
“I think our weight room could be expanded,” said Kyler Bourne, a junior marketing major. “Our weight room is really tiny and the weights are really old.”
Bourne is a pole vaulter on the track and field team.
“I think a lot more people would want to come and workout if there was more room,” said Bourne.
According to Degitz, the new weight room and cardio space will be roughly 5,000 square feet, which is three times the current size. As of right now, the weight room and cardio area are in bits and pieces, ranging from the one in the back to the one in the front, as well as the equipment in the field house, which totals around 1,500 square feet.
“The field house could use a new floor,” said Rensberger. “That’s where we spend most of our time, and it’s basically like running on soft cement.”
Degitz said that the field house will not grow in size, but it will receive a new floor. It will be repainted and updated, as well as receiving some new equipment. There will be a west-end addition on the other side of the field house, which will be storage and restrooms. The restrooms will serve the outdoor events like tennis, softball, track and field and soccer.
“We’re just trying to maximize the space in there,” said Degitz.
Bourne and Rensberger also expressed concerns about working out while the PLEX was being renovated.
Degitz mentioned how HU realized they couldn’t shut down the PLEX like they did the HUB because it has too many uses. As a result, it will be a staged and phased approach. The first thing they envision is removing the old pool and replacing it with a new performance gym, and so on.
“There will be disruption, but everybody will still be able to do what they need to do,” said Degitz. “It might just be in a little bit different location.”
As the excitement rises to meet the new and renovated PLEX, complications are still an actuality in this case.
“This sounds like an excuse, but it’s a reality,” said Degitz. “COVID-19 is complicating everything, and it seems crazy. Like what would an illness have to do with a building project?”
The pandemic has thrown the PLEX’s supply chains and material availability off. According to Degitz, their contractors have told them that the process will take around two years once it begins. There’s potential it could take longer if the contractor has trouble obtaining steel, shipping delays, or finding labor on site.
“So there’s a lot going on with it, and we’re really excited about it,” said Degitz. “If we’re about to stay on the timeline established for ourselves, then a lot of the work will begin this coming spring.”
Brooke Hardt, a junior nursing major, works at the PLEX.
“I think it’ll want to draw more people to the PLEX in general,” she said. “It would really just bring everyone together and make HU more lively.”
“I’m hoping community wise it just brings more people over to workout and more people to workout on campus instead of leaving to go somewhere else,” he said.
Degitz said: “I’ll be super excited to see Josh Watson and Fred Miller teach their exercise science classes in a new classroom. I’ll be super excited to see our athletes compete in our new facilities. It’ll be great just to see people engaging in a building that we’re proud of.”
Hardy Hall has been vacant since students left campus for COVID in March 2020. The HU Board of Trustees and faculty are actively thinking about what will become of Hardy in the future, but as of right now, it remains a quarantine and isolation spot for people with COVID.
Seniors Makayla Nofzinger and Kayla Zurburg reminisce on the times they had in Hardy their freshman year. The question was brought up during an interview: “Is the community lacking without Hardy being open.”
“The community was like no other,” said Nofzinger. “I don’t think the community is lacking, I think the traditions are because Hardy is so old and there is just so much history behind it. That’s just an aspect that’s missing.”
“It was nice in a way to have the girls from Hardy get dispersed because then it did bring more of a community to other dorms,” said Zurburg.