As with any great team effort, there is usually a story behind the story. The announcement earlier this month of a $25-30 million project to plan and build a state-of-the-art aquatic and track complex at Mylan Park in Morgantown has such a story, one that has the fingerprints of WVU’s business school.
One large detail that may have been overlooked is that the initial plans for this complex came from within the walls of the College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University. Steven Outright, director of B&E’s BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, recalled how the entire process began when he got a call from Ron Justice, WVU’s state corporate and community relations specialist, in the spring of 2014.
“Ron wanted us to take a look at doing a study on recreational facilities in Morgantown at first, due to our experience in having done so for both the City of Bridgeport and McDowell County in the past. So we assembled two teams of MBA students from the ENT 430 Business Planning and Analysis course as part of the Experiential Learning Center, and these teams got to work.”
What the teams found was a lack of city complexes that truly acted as community recreational facilities, other than the Morgantown Ice Arena at White Park owned by the Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners (BOPARC) – which was the largest revenue-generating recreational facility in the county.
Another concern was that WVU’s existing Natatorium facility, used by the WVU swimming and diving teams since 1975, is antiquated and only has a 25-meter pool. The facility as it stands would take $10 to $15 million to upgrade in order to be more compliant with Big 12 Conference requirements.
The two teams then made it their goal to focus on benchmarking two facilities in order to create business plans, budgets and capital costs for two new recreational facilities in Morgantown: a new aquatics and recreational center, and a new ice arena.
For the aquatic recreational center, the vision for the project started with meetings between the students, Cutright, Justice and then-athletic director Oliver Luck.
“We asked Luck what it was that WVU needed as far as a facility that would be competitive, and he told us that it should have a 50-meter pool with a 10-meter diving well (and an indoor recreational water park facility) that could be used not only by WVU, but also other surrounding institutions, junior and senior high schools and the community,” Cutright said. “He also told us that Virginia Tech had just built a similar facility in Christiansburg, Virginia, and that we as a group should make a visit.”
The students found that there were only nine 50-meter pools in the country, and set off to Christiansburg to study the new facility based on Luck’s advice. The students met with the administration, obtained the drawings from where it was built, got the information on the capital costs it took to build the facility, as well as the operating costs, the preliminary layouts and designs, and brought them back to Morgantown to study them with architects and others.
The students spent the next four months putting together a master plan for an aquatic center that encompassed a lazy river, water park, slide, heated therapeutic pools and more, based on attributes the team thought the community would like to have in addition to the institutional use of the facility.
At the same time, students worked on benchmarking Ice Castle, an ice arena in Castle Shannon, Pennsylvania. Students met with the owner and architect of the complex, went through the facility on three different occasions, and got the operating costs, capital cost, program cost and more. The students put together a plan to incorporate two NHL regulation-sized sheets of ice which would seat 800-1,000 people based on the final design, using one sheet of ice for community use and the other for institutional use. The plan also included an upstairs mezzanine where an additional recreational and fitness facility could be housed.
The teams came up with a plan to have two facilities – the aquatic center at Mylan Park and the recreational and ice arena at White Park – and developed business plans and budgets for both. Cutright said the biggest challenge was satisfying the needs of all the parties within the surrounding areas including the county and city, both desiring a facility in each jurisdiction.
“We held four different community meetings across the city and the county to present the plans to the community, answer questions and provide renderings with cost estimates and slideshows. We put together four of these with our MBA students as part of their classwork. In the end, everyone seemed to be satisfied,” Cutright said.
The plans evolved to the point that the complex at Mylan Park was adopted and are moving forward; the plans for White Park, however, are still under consideration.
The work performed by these students was completed through the Experiential Learning Center, where students engage with local and state government agencies, as well as private industries, to do exhaustive and detailed business analytics studies, business plans, feasibility studies and strategic operating plans. The center has completed 28 of these programs over the last three years with 139 students.
Two MBA students took the lead for these projects, Victor Adelanwa and Kerissa Kuis, both of whom are now B&E graduates and have moved on to their careers.
Kuis, who owned a wellness education company called The University of Wellness prior to starting this project, was inspired by her work on these plans to form a nonprofit to help raise money for wellness programs and facilities for Morgantown.
“This is only the beginning of how this project is going to change our town, keep young people in the community and create amazing jobs and partnerships,” Kuis said. “I have so much appreciation for the opportunity I was given to be a part of this.”
Cutright said that if it were not for Kuis and Adelanwa, the project could never gotten to where it did.
“Kerissa was very much the main driver in gathering the information, knowing the data that the team needed and knowing how to examine it in a much different manner than most of the students because of her background in design and operation of recreational facilities. She was one of the key people in this whole process,” Cutright said. “Victor was instrumental and dynamic in the development of our relationship with the people in Christiansburg when we benchmarked their facility, and was a great person to run everything through – including cost analysis and the business plan – because of his attention to detail.”
Though Kuis and Adelanwa worked on the project for two semesters, they were only able to get credit for one, and volunteered their time for the rest of the project.
“In my opinion, these are the best kinds of projects. We got to spend a year actually working on a consulting project, and this was the best class I took in all of my MBA studies,” Kuis said. “I am now doing business plans for wellness projects all over the world. This was a priceless experience.”