BELOIT - Beloit College's Powerhouse director wants the Beloit community to see the facility as an asset when it opens next year.
Steve Robinson started his position on Aug. 6, and since then he's been working to make sure the facility is a hybrid student union, recreation center and athletic facility. He estimates the building will be operational by next September.
Construction crews are currently in the process of erecting new concrete walls and beams and refurbishing the structure's windows.
"We're trying to pay tribute to the history of the building and reuse some of the components of it," Robinson said.
He said the 120,000 square foot facility is meant to serve multiple purposes, offering an indoor track and fieldhouse with a turf field, multiple lounges and informal meeting spaces, outdoor decks, study areas, a cafe and coffee bar, an expanded health and wellness center, group fitness studios, an eight lane lap pool, a conference room and lecture hall, batting cages and a riverwalk.
The facility includes multiple meeting spaces community organizations would be able to rent out. Robinson also hopes the space will house events for the campus as well as the public.
"At the baseline level, we're refurbishing the building," Robinson said. "It's going to look beautiful, so when you drive by you're going to see this amazing space, and I think it's something the community can be proud of."
He also hopes to one day partner with different community organizations, such as the Beloit International Film Festival. Since students will be managing the facility, he said the community will be able to interact with students in a new way.
Robinson said he's enjoyed living in Beloit thus far, taking full advantage of the area's nature trails and farmer's market.
"There's a really strong sense of community here," he said.
As for the college students, Robinson said it's his job to plan for user experience.
"I hope that students graduate Beloit College with the Powerhouse being a major part of their student experience, hopefully improving it," Robinson said. "We want to ensure that students gain a strong understanding of how to integrate health and wellness into their lives, and the Powerhouse is going to be instrumental in that."
He hopes the building will be a space where students could seamlessly get a bite to eat, study and participate in recreational activities without returning to their dorms. Students will be able to participate in year-round intramural sports and new health and wellness programs that haven't been seen on campus, such as paddle board yoga in the new swimming pool and possibly an introduction to triathlon class. However, he hopes students will utilize the space in other ways.
"This space allows for all kinds of creativity. I encourage students to look at this building as a blank canvas," Robinson said. "So the indoor fieldhouse can traditionally be seen as a sports space, and we'll use it as such. However, I also encourage students to see it as a big warm, open space that can be used in the middle of winter that you could do almost anything in."
Examples could include a laser tag or live action role play tournaments.
Though Robinson said he's overseen the opening of several other recreational facilities, he's never worked on a project of this scale. He and his family moved to Beloit from Park City, Utah, where he was serving as a program and training director for the National Ability Center. The nonprofit center is one of the largest adaptive recreation programs in the country. Prior to that he worked at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, Florida State University and Florida Gulf Coast University in the colleges' recreation departments. He received his undergraduate and Master's degrees from Florida State University.
Robinson praised the college for not having to use any tuition dollars on the project, meaning tuition won't go up because of the college building the facility.
The Powerhouse is a $38 million project at the site of the decommissioned Blackhawk Generating Station on the Rock River. The City of Beloit contributed $1.51 million for the accompanying 800-foot riverwalk through a state transportation grant.
College President Scott Bierman told the Beloit Daily News last month that the Powerhouse will not be affected by the college's plans to eliminate a $7 million budget deficit, as the project is fully funded using restricted money. The deficit reduction plan calls for layoffs and salary cuts.
The college has been developing plans for the Powerhouse project since 2010.