Fueled by Serra Gift, Dow Center Expansion Under Way

The project, scheduled for completion by mid-2020, will significantly increase fitness and wellness opportunities for all Albion College students.

September 9, 2019

An exterior rendering of Albion College’s Dow Center expansion, which is being led by a gift from Joe, ’82, and Julie Serra. The future main entrance is near the center of the image; the original, current entrance is at far right. (Project renderings are concepts and subject to change.)

The earth is moving and the anticipation is rising at the Dow Recreation and Wellness Center.

Groundbreaking began in mid-August for the 18,000 square feet of impacted space (11,000 sq. ft. in new space, 7,000 sq. ft. in renovated space) to the facility that will expand fitness opportunities for all Albion College students. The expansion, which will also offer new opportunities for the building to be used as a multifunction venue, is expected to be completed by May 2020.

The $3.2 million project is part of a $5 million gift announced in March from Julie and Joe Serra, ’82. Joe Serra, who played basketball at Albion and earned his degree in economics and management, is president of Fenton, Mich.-based Serra Automotive. He is also a former member of the Board of Trustees and received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2013.

It has long been the Serras’ hope to help the school increase and improve its athletic and fitness facilities. In March, Joe Serra described the direction of the gift as “passionate for both of us, because it affects all the students,” adding, “I’m hoping it will help draw future students to consider and be a part of Albion.”

Now, with both the fall semester and the project under way, things are coming into clearer view.

“We’re going to have workout space available for a campus community of 1,500-plus students,” Athletic Director Matt Arend said.

“So much learning and growing takes place outside of the traditional classroom setting,” said Erik Braun, Albion’s lead director of advancement and assistant athletic director. “With that in mind, it is important to Joe and Julie that this new fitness facility be the type of space that is warm and welcoming for all students, regardless of their athletic ability, to experience community around physical fitness. On campus, facilities like these are gathering spaces and are important in the recruitment of prospective students.”

Construction work is under way for the Dow Center expansion project.

The expanded facility will include the following:

  • A new entrance with a renovated lobby that will also benefit patrons of the Herrick Theatre;
  • A 5,000-sq.-ft.expansion for a weight room and cardio center;
  • The creation of a multipurpose room that can be used for fitness and dance classes as well as for theatre classes;
  • Renovated locker rooms and restrooms as well as new gender-neutral restrooms;
  • A smoothie bar near the new entrance with seating for students to gather;
  • New offices for some athletic administration staff;
  • Significant natural light, large expanses of glass, a traditional Albion collegiate exterior with a modern interior, modern finishes and inviting spaces;
  • New flooring and air conditioning in the atrium.

“This will completely change the way we look at our fitness and athletic facility,” said Doug Laditka, associate vice president for facilities management and development. “This improvement will make the Dow a destination.”

Arend agrees. “Once inside the facility we want students to feel welcomed and comfortable,” he said. “We want to encourage them to not only work out physically, but also view the Dow as a location for studying, meeting up for class projects or having a nice place to relax the mind. We envision the soft seating around the smoothie bar to be a destination location for students to both conduct class work and simply relax.”

The addition will also provide a boost for the College’s Theatre Department, which is also located in the Dow complex and where Herrick Theatre is located.

“This is very exciting,” said Zach Fischer, assistant professor of theatre and department chair. “There’s now a box office and gathering area for our patrons, and when they come in the atrium they’ll know exactly where to go.”

Arend said his hope is for the exterior to be complete by November and for interior work to commence this winter. There are also plans for a beam-signing ceremony during Homecoming weekend, October 4-5, in which all students will be welcome to add their names to the new project for posterity. Details are forthcoming. As well, construction progress will be trackable via webcam, with views available through a dedicated project page on albion.edu. Both the cam and web page will be live and online soon.

“It’s exciting and it will be nice to be able to develop something for all the students,” Arend said.

The future facility aims to be a welcoming place for the entire College community, with intentional outdoor and indoor gathering spaces.

Joe and Julie Serra have given a leadership gift to launch a fundraising initiative to make two dreams a reality at Albion College. The first is a newly expanded fitness and student activity facility at the site of the current Dow Recreation and Wellness Center. The second is a new or renovated competition facility for the teams that currently call Kresge Gymnasium home.

The College is continuing to raise funds in support of both projects. To learn more, call 517-629-0446 or email [email protected]; to make a gift, visit advance.albion.edu/serra.