As parents dropped their freshmen kids off for New Student Orientation (NSO) and upperclassmen returned on campus to settle in to their dorm rooms, many have inevitably witnessed the impressive conglomeration of steel beams and joists. At the corner of Warren and Lock Street is the construction of The Wellness and Event Center, endearingly nicknamed among administration and students alike as “The WEC Center.” According to Leonard “Lenny” Kaplan, Assistant Vice President, Director of Athletics, “this building is going to be the new face of NJIT.”
In an interview with the New York Times, President Joel Bloom has described the current Estelle and Zoom Fleischer Center as “subpar to just about any high school facility you’ll find in the area.”
In comparison to the existing 60,000 square foot facility, the highly anticipated 200,000 square foot facility designed by AECOM includes a 3500 seat arena for sports, a 25 meter pool with 8 lanes, 6,000 square feet of fitness center space, 12,000 feet of indoor turf and other amenities including lecture style student rooms and lounges. The purpose of these spaces, however, are for more than just athletics.
For example, in contrast to the current 1000 seat basketball court, the upcoming basketball arena can be converted into a stage for concerts and events such as Highlanderfest, and may potentially be where graduation takes place in the future. Additionally, the “WEC Center” has been designed to have practice basketball courts on the second floor. When games are not in session, the main court is available for intramural sports and activities. Currently, in the existing Estelle and Zoom Fleischer Center, there is only one basketball court. The drawback of this is when a game is happening, student intramurals cannot take place. The varied and interchangeable spaces allows the WEC Center to be open to the entire community—athletic or not.
Since the start of this major project, it has been clear that the intention of this facility is for all students and faculty to have the opportunity to not only stay fit, but also hold major events and to promote on campus involvement. “Two years ago, when we were deciding on this project, we held meetings and sessions with Student Senate, Athletics, Alumni Relations, Admissions, Career Development Services (CDS) and other departments on campus that hold major events to discuss what features the new center should have to cater to everyone’s needs,” said Kaplan.
The Wellness and Event Center is on track to open for Fall 2017, with the first major event being Freshman Convocation that year. “The Career Fair, Alumni Reunion, and New Student Orientation will be taking place here. For all NJIT students, this will be a big part of their time here on campus,” added Kaplan.
Many students speculate that the purpose of this facility is to support NJIT athletics since the basketball team’s infamous win against the ranked Michigan State University.
According to Andrew Christ, Vice President of Real Estate Development and Capital Operations at NJIT, 52% of the allotted square footage in the center goes to multipurpose use. Circulation and support takes up 33% of space, while athletics and athletic offices respectively take up 11% and 4% of the space. “There are coach offices, team locker rooms and weight rooms specific for athlete use…but overall, spaces for athletics-only are very little,” reassured Kaplan.
While the WEC is anticipated to give students additional space for on campus activities and involvement, many students and parents are quick to conclude that there will be tuition increases. However, according to Lisa Easton, Director of University Budgeting and Financial Planning, “the Wellness and Event Center is under currently under construction but the costs will not begin to impact the operating budget of the university until the next fiscal year FY18.”
In fact, this year, the recent increases in tuition are to fund for other aspects of NJIT’s “2020 Vision”, the goal or “vision” for NJIT in the year of 2020. A press release statement sent to students last July states that the 2% tuition increase is intended to fund “campus enhancements with more than $3.3 million in capital renewal and replacement projects, which are bringing our students improved buildings, classrooms and lab space, the hiring of 20 faculty this year, bringing the four-year hiring total to 100 new faculty, who are among leaders in the nation in their respective fields of STEM education and research, the increased enrollment of high-achieving students to 11,585.”
Of the 300 million dollars in building projects taking place on campus, the budget of the Wellness and Event Center is 102 million dollars. The remaining 116 million is going to the renovations made to the Central King Building (CKB), and 24 million to the Life Science Center.
Once the WEC Center is complete, the existing Estelle and Zoom Fleischer Athletic Center will be demolished, and a new outdoor soccer field will be reopened in the fall of 2018. For the time being, both the men’s and women’s soccer teams are practicing at a soccer field at Kean University, where games also take place.
With a new facility comes a new marketing opportunity. Since NJIT’s major win against Michigan State, paid attendance and the students have increased. Initially, game attendance averaged at 500, and currently, it is uncommon to see a gym packed to full capacity (an attendance of 800-900). “Being on ESPN 3 has helped a lot, and junior conferences also increase the excitement because NJIT now has rivals,” explained Kaplan, “with the new center, we’ll be able to sustain an increased game attendance.”
When asked if there was a certain quota of revenue needed to be met with the new Wellness and Event Center, Kaplan replied, “we have no predicted revenue of this building, but we have the ability to do certain things—we can rent it to other sport facilities, outside concerts, and while a lot of it was made with specific revenue generation in mind, I don’t want to rent the building out if it’ll make the building unavailable for the students.”
“At the end of the day, it’s not always about the money. It’s about the students.”