MORGANTOWN, W.VA – One year, $10 million and 185 trucks of cement later, the West Virginia University Athletics Performance Center is now complete and has quickly become a hub for Mountaineer Olympic sport student-athletes.
WVU football, baseball and women’s and men’s basketball each already had their own strength and conditioning areas, but West Virginia’s other 13 varsity sports were left working out in a pair of cramped, outdated weight rooms in the Coliseum and Shell Building.
When Shane Lyons took over as WVU’s director of athletics in 2015, it was his vision to give these programs a modern workout facility of their own.
Now that idea has become a reality.
Situated behind the Coliseum, the Athletics Performance Center, which opened last October, is used each day by 300-400 student-athletes from the volleyball, rifle, gymnastics, rowing, golf, track and field, tennis, wrestling, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s soccer and women’s soccer teams.
“We get into this business because of the student-athletes,” stated Lyons. “We have high-performing student-athletes, and we want to help them improve. We want to give them access to first-class training, and with that idea in mind, it became paramount that we build this facility for our Olympic sport athletes.”
The Athletics Performance Center resides on the site of the old Natatorium, which was the home to WVU’s swimming program from 1972-2019. But when the state-of-the-art Aquatic Center opened in Mylan Park in October of 2019, the Mountaineer swimmers and divers had a new water haven, and the Natatorium sat empty. It remained unused until the construction of the APC began in October of 2020.
“When we started looking at this idea in 2016, we first talked about having a stand-alone building,” said Lyons of the initial plan for an Athletics Performance Center which also would be near the Coliseum. “We originally talked about using the Natatorium to build a 2,500- to 3,000-seat arena that we could use for volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics (all of which hold their competitions in the Coliseum), providing more of an intimate setting for them. As we looked at that, though, the seating capacity just wasn’t going to be there for that, so the next question – what do we do with this building? In talking to architects, they said we could fill in the pool with concrete and utilize this space for our Athletic Performance Center.
“That started the wheels turning. We had Omni Architects out of Fairmont come in and show us some rendering of what could be done,” stated Lyons, as the project went from WVU’s ideas to Omni’s blueprints to March-Westin’s construction. According to Lyons, 94% of the workers used to build the facility were from the state of West Virginia.
“It turned better than any of us expected,” Lyons smiled.
The cost to transform the Natatorium into the Athletics Performance Center was $10 million with that money coming from the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust.
“I can’t thank them enough,” said Lyons of the Trust, which was founded by the late Hazel Ruby McQuain, who passed away at the age of 92 in 2002. Over the years, the Trust has provided multiple donations to the University and the Morgantown community for a variety of philanthropic purposes.
WVU got a lot of bang for its buck at the APC.
The 36,500 square foot Athletics Performance Center features a 10,000 square foot weight room, which sits on the spot the old swimming pool used to be. The arched wooden ceiling that stood above the pool now is over the top of the weight room, and it is one of the few original features of the Natatorium that still remains, though the ceiling was gently cleaned after decades of exposure to humid chlorine air.
There is also an area for the 60-member women’s crew team to work out with individual erg rowing machines, and there is a golf suite that contains an artificial turf putting green and a Trackman computerized simulator for use when the weather doesn’t allow for members of Sean Covich’s golf team to get out to its normal practice course, which is the Pete Dye Golf Club in Bridgeport.
There is also a Bod Pod, which is a $50,000 egg-shaped enclosure that uses air pressure to measure an individual’s body composition. In addition, the facility contains a nutrition and hydration station, which is overseen by the athletic department’s five nutritionists (two for football and three for the other sports), though the actual cafeteria serving the main meals remains next door in the Coliseum. There is also a treatment and rehab wing with six full-time and three student assistant athletic trainers who see to the physical needs of the athletes. There is a three-pool (temperatures of 50 degrees, 90 degrees and 105 degrees) hydrotherapy room for low-stress conditioning (one of the pools has a pair of underwater treadmills) and further rehabilitation.
On top of all that, there are lockerrooms for all the Olympic sport athletes. That’s something they all didn’t previously enjoy.
Not only does the Athletics Performance Center contain the state-of-the-art equipment the Mountaineer Olympic sport student-athletes need, but it also is large enough to allow almost all the teams to work out there at the same time, rather than splitting up as they had to do in the past when they used the small weight rooms.
“This doesn’t just impact today’s student-athletes, but it’s going to impact student-athletes for years to come,” concluded Lyons. “It lays a great foundation for us. This gives us something to be very proud of. It’s one of our showcase buildings.”
The opening of the Athletics Performance Center allows Lyons to move on to his next domino. The new weight room in the APC leaves the old one that was at the court level in the Coliseum unused. WVU is already in the process of turning that into a club area for as many as 150 basketball ticketholders. After that court-level club area is completed in August, West Virginia plans to move ahead with another even larger club area, which will be built out from the concourse level of the Coliseum near the Gold Gate.