ASHLAND — It rises above Ashland University’s Dwight Schar Athletic Complex, its hulking steel frame looming over 6,000-seat Jack Miller Stadium and dwarfing nearby Ferguson Field.
And when the state-of-the-art Niss Athletic Center opens its doors later this year, it will be among the top indoor training facilities in the state — if not the nation.
The 125,000-square-foot facility will house an 80 yard artificial surface field ringed by a 300 meter, six-lane track. Construction began in 2020 and should be completed in early-October.
“We’ve looked at trying to have an indoor facility for a long time, but we really never progressed very far with it,” Ashland University Director of Athletics Al King said. “The Niss family expressed interest in providing a lead gift, so we started to put the pieces together and look at fund-raising and get other donors involved and we were able to make it a reality.
“We’ve always had this dream. We just weren’t able to realize it before now.”
In addition to Dan and Brenda Niss, other lead donors include Jack and Deb Miller and Jerry Ruyan. Plans for the project were green-lighted by AU’s Board of Trustees in May of 2020 after a building site was decided on. J&F Construction & Development, Inc. of Bucyrus is handling the construction.
“We looked at a couple of different places to put it and we settled on behind the football field, which isn’t bad because you get a lot of your (athletic) building right there.” King said. “We’re up to 24 sports now and the question was where can they all practice? We had the football team coming into (Kates Gymnasium) in the winter to throw.
"We hope this facility is going to solve those problems.”
The complex is more than a training center for current Ashland University athletes. It will be among the university’s best recruiting tools.
“To be able to show prospective athletes the entire athletic complex and have the indoor facility as the centerpiece, it will be invaluable,” AU’s head strength and conditioning coach Malcolm Majesky said. “We are going into the Greater Midwest Athletic Conference this fall and I think we will be the only school in the GMAC with a 300 meter indoor track.”
The new facility will allow Majesky, who oversees the strength and conditioning programs for all of AU’s varsity sports, to coordinate workouts in a centralized location.
“We’ll be able to take whatever speed and agility programs we are doing outside into the new building once the weather turns bad, which will be huge,” Majesky said. “The past couple of years we’ve been able to get outside in the winter because there wasn’t a lot of snow on the ground. This past winter, though, we were only able to get outside for one week and other than that we were in the Troop Center.”
No program stands to benefit more from the new complex than AU’s nationally-renown track program. The Eagles didn’t host a single event during the indoor or outdoor seasons during the 2020-21 school year.
“We think we’re going to have the opportunity to get into the rotation to host the GMAC championships,” King said. “It’s going to give our fans a chance to see our student-athletes here, which has been so rare. You haven’t been able to do it indoors.”
While the details are still be ironed out, the plan is to open the complex to the entire AU community.
“It’s going to be used for other things, too, not just varsity athletics,” King said. “Band is going to be able to use it. Intramural teams are going to be able to use it. It just opens up a lot of avenues to getting more people on campus.”