By Tim Duncan, Paine College, Augusta, Ga.
Paine College’s Health Education Activities Learning Complex (HEAL) opened in January and was a true collaboration between athletics, the office of institutional advancement and Richmond County. The 49,000 square-foot contemporary structure houses classrooms, laboratories, locker rooms, a wellness center and the renovated 2,200-seat Randall A. Carter Gymnasium. It is also the new home for the athletics department.The concept of the HEAL complex took root more than 20 years ago. There were several versions that preceded the facility we have come to know as home, which at one point included a 5,000-seat arena and a swimming pool. While those versions were dynamic and would have made a tremendous impact on the community, Paine College President Dr. George Bradley and his leadership team decided to streamline the project to preserve the intimate feel of the original 900-person capacity gym.
Paine College has been an integral part of the local community since 1882. Because of that relationship, the Richmond County government provided funding for the construction of the HEAL Complex via sales tax proceeds.
While the bulk of the architectural planning was complete when I was hired in May 2011, I received a great piece of advice from a donor and friend from a previous institution that enabled us to make a few tweaks to the plan. The donor is the owner of a commercial real estate firm and his family were tremendous supporters of my previous institution. He advised me to visit the construction site twice daily to become familiar with the project and be in the position to make changes real-time to reduce the hassle and expense of making change orders at the end of the project.
Although I was not able to maintain that rigid schedule, I did visit the site almost daily. We were able to make a few additions to the plan which would increase game day revenue, make the venue more user friendly for our coaches and staff, and create a larger weight room to serve the entire student population, faculty, staff and community.
Having a background in development, I am attuned to donor hospitality and entertainment opportunities at venues. Our facility was built in the 1950s and like many basketball venues in that era, it had a stage in the gymnasium. The original plan was to add bleachers on the stage to increase the venue capacity by 400 people. However, I thought the old stage could become a great source of revenue if we made it a premium seating area for donors.
Through extensive conversations with Dr. Bradley, the institutional advancement office, the general contractor and the architects, we were able to build two luxury suites with a capacity of 20 people each. Instead of bleachers, we added limited seating and increased the ticket price for that area. Now we have two additional revenue streams that would not have been possible without identifying the opportunity early on in the construction phase.
The HEAL Complex places coaches and athletic staff under one roof. At a small institution like Paine College (800 students), many of our coaches and staff members wear multiple hats. The synergy and camaraderie we have been able to achieve in the few short months since being housed together is incredible. That would not have been possible under the original design, which included a closet that separated staff members. After the impediment was discovered, we met with the contractor and found out there was no cost to remove the closet.
Finally, we were able to increase the size of the wellness center, which includes treadmills, weights and other equipment. In the terms of the agreement with the county, Paine College would allow the community to use the facility for health and wellness classes and exercise. However, the original plan for the weight room was much smaller than its current configuration.
The donor’s advice was key as we recognized another opportunity. After reviewing the drawings with the general contractor, we noticed a room next door that would have far less traffic and weighed our options. After getting all of the relevant parties in a room, we agreed to increase the size of the Wellness Center. The facility was enlarged and is now ready to serve campus and community members.
This was the first capital project I have been involved with since being named athletic director. Although I did not participate in the initial planning phase, by using the donor’s advice we were able to make a positive impact on the complex’s financial future, ease of use and its ability to facilitate multiple constituency groups. Being involved with the HEAL Complex project taught me the value of being there on a daily basis. It also reminded me that teamwork and communication, particularly in a construction project, are skills that are necessary to complete a project of this magnitude.
Paine College’s HEAL complex is a collaboration of athletics and the county office of institutional advancement.