An interior image of the Wellness and Events Center.
The Wellness and Events Center, already nicknamed WEC, is a $102 million building that will be constructed on the site of the Lubetkin Athletic field. WEC will extend across the length of the field, which will later be rebuilt on the north side of the building. The construction of WEC, to begin after the groundbreaking, will be finished in the fall of 2017.
"The changes on the NJIT campus are broad and deep," said NJIT President Joel S. Bloom. “And WEC is a game changer.”
The groundbreaking ceremony is open to the public and slated for Nov. 12, at 9:30 a.m. on Lubetkin Field. The event, which also features a special announcement about the NJIT NEXT campaign, will be celebrated by academics, elected officials, students, alumni, donors, Athletics and other staff members.
As the name implies, WEC is a multi-purpose building that will offer something for everyone at NJIT. The 200,000-square-foot building will be in equal parts a fitness center, a study space, a gathering spot and a sports arena that will double as a conference and events center. WEC will offer students a place to relax and stay fit; athletes a place to practice and play games; and the university a place to host on-campus events and professional conferences.
“The Wellness and Events Center will be the centerpiece of the university -- the building that will unify the entire campus,” said Raj Das, who as president of the NJIT Student Senate sat on a steering committee that planned WEC. “It’s a great building, it’s a trophy, it’s the cherry on top of our new campus,” added Das, who will be one of two student speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony.
WEC is a major part of a $300 million building plan to overhaul the campus. Other parts of the plan include the Central King Building, whose classrooms and labs are state of the art; the Life Sciences and Engineering Building, ground for which was broken on Oct. 1; the new parking deck, located behind NJIT's Enterprise Development Center on Warren Street; and the renovation of classrooms and labs all over campus.
The renovation plan reflects the university’s evolution from a commuter school to a nationally-ranked research university. Indeed, NJIT’s growing reputation has prompted a surge in enrollment that totals more than 11,000 students.
NJIT Board of Trustees Chair Stephen P. DePalma said the board enthusiastically supported WEC because of what it will mean to students and the NJIT community. “This building will complement the transformation of our campus and continue to enhance our reputation as a nationally-recognized STEM university,” he said.
WEC will have many amenities, just some of which include:
- A 25-meter swimming pool with diving area
- A fitness center with cardio equipment and weights
- Lounges, study areas and multipurpose rooms
- An indoor 10,000 square feet turf space
- Two practice courts for intramural and intercollegiate sports
- A running track that will encircle the concourse of the first-floor arena
- The arena will seat 3,500 people, but the bleachers are designed to retract, allowing the floor space in the arena to triple in size.
- The expanded floor space will host campus events and professional conferences
- An inside path on the first floor will allow students to walk from the subway and other areas on Locke Street to the main campus quad
- A 30-foot-wide promenade between Tiernan Hall
- The outside steps and the open space on WEC’s northside are designed for students to sit comfortably
- WEC will be three stories high and its north side will be all windows, through which natural light will flood into the building. The tall windows will overlook the new athletic field.
WEC also serves another vital need at NJIT: Its athletes, who as Division I members have outgrown the Fleisher Center, which was built in the 1960s, when NJIT was a smal commuter school.
The limits of the current gym were highlighted by last season’s Men’s Basketball team, which had a cinderella season and a David and Goliath moment in beating top-ranked Michigan.
In the wake of that win the team garnered national news, which noted that the Highlanders were the only Division I team in the nation not in an athletic conference. The teams therefore had no chance of entering the NCAA tournament. The Highlanders also lacked an arena that could house Division I games. Once WEC was approved by the Board of Trustees, however, NJIT was accepted earlier this year into the Atlantic Sun Conference. So if the Men’s Basketball team wins its conference this season, and pre-conference play begins Saturday against top-ranked Kentucky, it will secure an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. And having the chance to make what is known as March Madness gives the team hope -- something to play for.
Ky Howard, a point guard, played a pivotal role in the success of last season’s team. He’s a senior now, this is his last year of play, and he’s happy to finally have a shot at March Madness.
“With the blessing of God, we’ll win our conference and get an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament,” said Howard, whose father, Maurice Howard, played in the NBA. “It's a great opportunity for a senior like me.”
As a senior, Howard will never play in the new WEC arena, but he’s happy to have assisted in laying the groundwork for it. His team’s success last season, especially beating Michigan, helped create the momentum and the publicity that illustrated the need for an arena.
“My father always told me to leave my mark in life,” said Howard. “Our winning season last year was a reason the new arena was approved. We put NJIT on the map, and our team photos and our conference banner will hang in the arena: No one can ever erase our memories. We made our mark. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
Camerin Spahn, a junior on the Women’s Basketball team, will be the second student speaker at the groundbreaking. She too will graduate before WEC is finished. But she too is happy to have forged a path for future Highlanders.
“We upperclassmen have the comfort of knowing that we were part of the teams that took NJIT athletics to this point,” said Spahn, a civil engineering major in the Albert Dorman Honors College.
The Fleisher gym has its quirky shortcomings, she said, such as athletes having to take ice baths in plastic garbage cans or teams squabbling over scant washers and dryers. And given the limited gym space some athletic teams must get up at 5 or 6 a.m. to practice. WEC will thus be a much better home for the Highlanders, she said.
“Needless to say,” added Spahn, “all of the athletes are ecstatic over the opportunities that the Wellness and Events Center will provide. Looking at the amenities in this facility makes us all swell with Highlander pride. After years of sacrifice and sweat from us and former NJIT athletes, the Highlanders will finally have an arena to play in -- a home that complements and incites our athletic abilities. Thank you NJIT.”
By Robert Florida