BLOOMINGTON — The explosion of interest in fitness and increased participation on sports teams led to Illinois Wesleyan University's decision to build a two-story addition to Shirk Center, President Richard Wilson said Thursday.
The $6.5 million project is being paid for almost entirely through a major gift from the Shirk family and the Shirk Family Foundation, said Matt Kurz, IWU vice president for communication.
Beer Nuts, the Bloomington-based snack food company, is owned by the Shirk family. The Russell and Betty Shirk Foundation was the primary contributor to the building of the $15 million Shirk Center for Athletics and Recreation in 1994.
“When the Shirk Center was originally constructed in 1994, we thought we had adequate fitness facilities for that time,” Wilson said. “There was no way to anticipate the dramatic explosion in interest in fitness among our students, staff and faculty.”
The 20,000-square-foot addition, to be built on the east side of the existing building, will contain a fitness/cardiovascular center, spinning room and two multipurpose rooms on the second level and men’s and women’s locker rooms, a training room and storage space on the first level, Wilson said.
The current fitness room will be converted to a weight-training area, he said.
Construction is expected to begin this summer.
Jonathan Green, provost and dean of faculty, said physical education is “part of the philosophy of this institution.”
Green noted that about a quarter of IWU students are varsity athletes.
Kurz noted that Shirk Center is a community resource used for athletic and nonsports-related events, including the State Farm Classic high school basketball tournament, Special Olympics events, the annual Sustainable Living and Wellness Expo and even a quilt show. About 300 community events occur annually at Shirk Center, according to Kurz.
He said fitness and recreation facilities are extremely important to today’s students, and the addition will help keep IWU competitive in attracting students.
The project has been under discussion for two or three years, Wilson said.
“As Jim Shirk said to me on many occasions, ‘I want you to look into the future,'" Wilson said.
University officials hope this addition will provide for the university’s needs for another 20 years.
Wilson said IWU’s athletic and recreational facilities are among the best in the country at a Division III school and this addition will enhance that reputation.