Eight walls have gone up at the new O’Fallon McKendree Metro Rec Plex located at the corner of Scott-Troy Road in O’Fallon.
“We are very excited about the McKendree Metro Rec Plex and the many opportunities it will provide McKendree University to expand and develop women’s and men’s NCAA water sports, and ice hockey programs. In addition, the Rec Plex will allow us to offer a wide variety of recreational activities to our students, faculty and staff,” James Dennis, university president, said in a released statement.
The facility will consist of recreational, retail, professional and hospitality-oriented businesses and will be anchored by the recreational facility on the 45-acre commercial development known as The Four Points Center.
The public facility will include two NHL-sized ice rinks, aquatic center, fitness area and other amenities.
The McKendree Metro Rec Plex is expected to serve as a regional hub to host swimming, hockey and ice skating tournaments.
The facility and its amenities will be open to the public with the purchase of a membership or daily admission.
The aquatic center will include a competition pool with dive well and a zero-entry recreation pool. The recreation pool will also have four practice lanes and will be utilized for water aerobics classes and swim lessons.
A fitness area will include a half court gymnasium, free weights, a walking track, and numerous pieces of cardio equipment. The sports complex will also have party rooms and conference facilities available for birthday parties or company retreats.
Primary users will include the McKendree University Bearcat athletic teams and the Southern Illinois IceHawks youth hockey organization. McKendree will use the facility to host its existing men’s hockey team as well as a new women’s team and a second men’s team.
“This new venture has allowed the developer, McKendree University, the City of O’Fallon, and the Ice Hawks to partner on an important venture that will benefit all of the principal parties and greater population in this region,” Dennis said.
The aquatic center will become the home of future McKendree Bearcat swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming teams. The pool is expected to regularly host regional swimming and diving events at the collegiate and club level. The facility will also serve as a year-round facility for competitive swimming programs for all ages.
The McKendree Metro Rec Plex is projected to open this fall, depending on weather.
“It’s kind of just beginning, finally taking shape. We’ve got almost all of the exterior and some interior walls up, so it’s coming along very nicely,” said John Arbeiter, senior general manager of the McKendree Metro Rec Plex.
He said memberships and daily passes will be available for purchase for use of the facility and all its features “very soon.”
“The facility is about a 15-acre footprint with 155 to 160,000 square feet of interior space,” said Kim Smallheer, general manager. “This could really become a destination place for the area, and has great potential for future growth over the coming years. The economic impact alone, I think, will be substantial.”
In May 2013, developer Dean Oelze announced initial plans for a proposed sports complex. The development is a privately funded plan for a state-of-the-art facility for sports competitions and recreational use.
While McKendree University has purchased naming rights to the facility and plans to expand their water and ice sports into the facility, it is not McKendree University owned, Smallheer said.
“We will be open to the public. We don’t want people to be deterred from joining because they automatically assume it’s a university-only facility, when it’s not,” he said.
Smallheer was hired seven years ago by McKendree University to run the recreation center that was about to be built, after working at the O’Fallon YMCA, but other projects like renovations of current education buildings and campus infrastructure work took precedence and pushed the Rec Plex down on the list.
Delving into the “what ifs” discussed between the university leadership and the developer, one main factor stood out — without this facility, the university doesn’t have the resources to accommodate additional men and women hockey and aquatic sports teams, Smallheer said.
“Because we at McKendree have entered into a relationship with this particular developer, we thought we might look at moving forward with the Rec Plex that way, especially because this developer previously built a wrestling center and a performance-weight room at McKendree that’s been open for about two years now,” Smallheer said.
“So through, I’m sure, many months of planning and negotiations, the Rec Plex was born. This is not a McKendree facility, and it’s really important to note that, and although their name will be on the building, it’s kind of like the TWA Dome or the Edward-Jones Dome or the Scott Trade Center — those places aren’t owned by those folks, but they paid a naming right. So McKendree has done both, there’s the naming right and also because it was the McKendree brainchild, they will be the primary user of the ice rinks and the aquatic facilities,” Smallheer said.
In other words, McKendree University hockey and aquatic teams get first dibs on the space before other teams or members can use it.
“So the advantage to McKendree here now is instead of just one men hockey team, they now have two men and one women hockey teams, so that does great things for them from an intercollegiate athletic competition perspective, which in turn could bring more students for the university and by necessity enrollment would probably go up,” Smallheer said.
McKendree University has never had aquatic sports teams available. “In all, they will be adding another six aquatic sports teams to their list,” Smallheer said.
A men and women swimming teams, a men and women diving teams and a men and women water polo teams will be added with the completion of the facility.
“There has even been talk of implementing a figure skating team, too,” Smallheer said.
Construction of the facility is well underway. Groundwork for a roadway dubbed Rec Plex Drive will have a main entrance on Scott Troy Road and will wind around and hook up with Eastgate Drive, Smallheer said.
“We have steel going going up and joists going across the stand and the sand based rink has roof decking above it,” Arbeiter said.
One ice rink will be sand based for the refrigeration lines to be properly insulated for year-round use, where as a concrete-based rink is for seasonal hockey and ice skating events, but also so staff can turn it into a multi-use area when the occasion arises.
“It will be much like the Scott Trade Center in St. Louis or the Family Arena out in St. Charles, where we can host concerts, trade shows, conventions, anything that needs to be accommodated by 25,000 square-feet,” Arbeiter said.
Smallheer said the competition ice rink is about 17,000 square feet and will be able to seat about 2,500.
“When we take down the ice and add seating on the floor, we can then accommodate up to approximately 3,500,” Smallheer said.
That might be for an event like a concert or a guest speaker or something where there would be a stage at one end of the rink area.
“For an event like a trade show, car show, or boat show, all of that square footage would be taken up with booths and displays rather than seating,” Smallheer said.
Once under roof, Arbeiter said Poettker Construction, the main contractor, and subcontractors, will begin work on some interior finishes such as pouring concrete, interior masonry and stud walls.
“We are going to have a five meter platform for the competition swimming pool, which has been framed out and reinforced already with rebar, so in the coming weeks that will get poured (with concrete),” Arbeiter said.
The diving tank is going to have two one-meter platforms, two three-meter platforms and one five-meter platform.
“The beauty of our building is we will have two pools, giving us the double whammy of being able to serve two types of crowds — intercollegiate athletes and the general public,” Smallheer said. “While we have the intercollegiate teams in one pool, if you are a paying member and the pool is full, like it often happens at the YMCA’s, here you can go to the recreation pool.”
Smallheer pointed out that both pools will be connected by a narrow path. The competition pool will be about 25 yards by 25 meters in size with 10 lanes, and the shallow end at eight feet increasing to 14 feet depth in the diving tank, while the second pool, a zero depth pool will be smaller than the former with stair entry.
“The pools have the latest technology, so if you go over to the competition pool it is equipped with wave technology such that the water will go out of the pool if there’s a splash, instead of hitting the sides and coming back at you,” Smallheer said.
Memberships for the public are forthcoming “very soon,” with perks including discounts on various programs like daily public ice skating, skate classes, swimming, several types of fitness classes, according to Arbeiter.
“We also have a fitness center with a walking track, cardio machines, plus free weight equipment, and a full service concession stand too to refuel afterward,” he said “We will have a childcare area for if mom wants to go to a zumba class or dad or grandparents need to head to the pool for laps or the fitness center for a workout.”