Penn State President Rodney Erickson stood above the crowd, his shoulders washed in the afternoon sun cascading through the glass front of Penn State Beaver's Wellness Center. After years of planning and months of unavoidable delays, the $3.3 million, state-of-the-art facility was finally getting its moment in the sun. "This is a wonderful space," Erickson said. "The campus looks magnificent."
More than 160 people descended on the 4,980-square-foot building to take part in its dedication Sept. 6. Government officials rubbed elbows with wide-eyed freshmen, while reporters jockeyed for position with campus staff members along the mezzanine overlooking the main floor. The muted popping of cameras drifted above the room.
The floor-to-ceiling windows offered guests a panoramic snapshot of the sprawling campus grounds as Erickson lauded the efforts of students, staff, faculty, alumni, and Pittsburgh-based WTW Architects.
'This simply wouldn't have happened without everyone pulling together," Erickson said. "I want to thank the students. They put a high priority on having a facility like this. It was much needed and much awaited."
After breaking ground in March 2011, the project was hit with numerous setbacks. State budget cuts that spring led to a University-mandated spending freeze, bringing construction to a halt. Once the project was back on track, delays in materials arriving at crucial times added to the wait.
Despite these obstacles, students, faculty and administrators pushed on, and on July 24, 2012, the Wellness Center opened for business.
"I never spoke to a single person on campus, whether student or faculty, that was opposed to the project. That went a long way toward getting it done," said Chancellor Gary Keefer, who joined Erickson on stage, along with Vice President of Commonwealth Campuses Madlyn Hanes and student representative Steven Dusicsko ’13 Bus, then a senior business major.
The ample tab for the project was picked up by Beaver campus and other University sources, as well as private donors, according to Director of Finance and Business Luke Taiclet ’82 ’83 Lib, ’85 MEd.
In addition, the project had the students' financial support. During the last four years, they designated $400,000 of their student facility fees to help fund the Wellness Center.
Many of the students whose fees went into the building knew they wouldn't be on campus to use it by the time it opened, but they recognized the impact the facility would have on future generations of students.
Students were also heavily involved in the design process, thanks to Taiclet and Dr. Chris Rizzo, director of student affairs, who insisted on fostering an open dialogue. Dusicsko, who was involved in the project from the beginning, told the crowd at the dedication that was a key to its success.
"We discussed all the different parameters of the Wellness Center, from initial designs to more detailed things like the equipment. It was really nice because there was always a student voice there. There was always student input from beginning to end, and I think that’s really important," Dusicsko said. "The student input kind of shaped it into what it is now."
Additional funds were donated to the project by Dr. Nicholas Unis; his sister, Dr. Jennifer Unis Sullivan; and his wife, Nadine Unis. They own a dental practice in Hopewell Township and made a generous gift of $25,000, which enabled the campus to build a new concession stand outside the gymnasium. The stand includes a trophy case that displays athletic achievements of the campus throughout the years.
"I wanted to do something for Penn State Beaver because I’m local, and they’re local, and I wanted to support the community. I thought the concession stand was a nice way of doing it," Nick Unis said.
Unis said he has strong ties to the University, and he would like nothing more than to pass on the blue and white torch to his children.
"I have four kids, and I hope they all go to Penn State," he said. "My daughter actually has hopes of going there to be a veterinarian."
Another Beaver alumnus and generous donor to the Wellness Center project was Carl Bartuch ’75 Bus, who made a gift of $100,000 several years ago. Bartuch, who was unable to attend the dedication ceremony, lives in Houston, where he owns High Tech Finishing, the world’s leading supplier of high-quality metal plating finishes for high-end business and luxury aircraft interiors. He also owns Kegg’s Candies, a Houston-based manufacturer of gourmet chocolates, and Bartuch Holdings Ltd., an acquisition investment firm.
Though Bartuch has led a successful life, he hasn’t forgotten his roots. He’s continued to support Beaver campus through scholarship donations and his Wellness Center gift.
“This is home to me. That played a big role in wanting to help out the campus as much as I could,” Bartuch said. “It brings a lot of great feelings knowing that for decades students will be able to enjoy a new Wellness Center.”
With its shimmering facade and its modern blueprint, it’s easy to understand why the Wellness Center has so many people talking.
“It’s absolutely spectacular. It’s one of the nicest facilities among our campuses,” Hanes said.
Most importantly, it’s the unified front it took to forge ahead with such a major project that makes it a source of pride for all those involved.
“I’m proud of the work and effort folks have put into this. It was really a team effort to get the project from concept to reality, from start to finish,” said Rizzo. “What really struck me was seeing Steve go from the planning of the Wellness Center to being on stage with the president. That gives you a great sense of satisfaction.”
This synergy within the Penn State community is not something new, Erickson said.
“It’s characteristic of Penn State, where we get strong collaboration between students, faculty, staff, and members of the community, and this was a wonderful example of that. We had everybody working together toward a common goal,” he said.
On the unofficial opening day of the Wellness Center last summer, about 200 students signed up to use its cutting-edge equipment. Many more students, plus faculty and staff, have registered since.
That’s the result the University had been hoping for, Erickson said.
“The health and wellness of our students, faculty, and staff is very important to us. It can have many significant effects,” he said. “It makes us able to perform our functions at a higher level. Whether we’re studying or serving in a leadership capacity, a sound body and a sound mind certainly go together.”
Stories inside the 2013 edition of the Nittany News
- Penn State Beaver Alumni Society
- Beaver Valley Area Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association