Herbs Sims Center workout

Niquan Cousins works out at the Herbs Sims Center Friday morning. Some changes will be coming to the center under Bluefield College’s direction, but BC President David Olive has assured residents the building will remain a community asset.

BLUEFIELD — Bluefield College has already started the process of not only making the Herb Sims Center an asset for BC athletic programs, but also a place the community can continue to use and be proud of.

The college recently took over the center, which will be called the Sims Wellness Center because of the inclusive nature of the activities planned, from the City of Bluefield.

With the sale of Bluefield Regional Medical Center, a for-profit hospital, to the non-profit Princeton Community Hospital, the city is losing about $700,000 a year in tax revenue.

That prompted the city to examine ways to save money, and Bluefield College agreed to a 10-year lease of the center, saving the city about $90,000 a year with a combination of the elimination of that expense and revenue from the lease.

When the lease was announced and discussed at a recent city board meeting, Bluefield College President David Olive assured concerned residents the college will continue to involve residents and offer the building for community events that do not conflict with the college’s schedule for the facility.

Olive also said the popular youth basketball program will continue and will involve the college’s athletic staff and students working with youth.

On Aug. 1, BC officially took over the center and Olive said a transition period began as the city started moving the after-school program to the new Fitness and Recreation Center on College Avenue.

During a tour of the Sims Wellness Center last week Olive explained the changes already made and those coming.

The large area that was once used for various functions is now equipped with training equipment for football players as well as the student body.

Some of the equipment had been on campus, he said, and the rest was at a building being rented beside Douglas Equipment.

“Having this facility available to our campus community now has enabled these two environments to come together into one place,” he said. “Most of this equipment … was purchased eight years ago when we started the football program because we had to have something of that magnitude.”

The former community center’s equipment was used as a supplement but when the city took over that last year and created the Fitness and Recreation Center the college purchased the rest of the needed equipment and placed it on campus. Now, it is all in the same large room at the Sims Wellness Center, along with offices that will be used by football coaches.

Having the central location within walking distance of the campus is a “huge benefit,” he said.

Olive said he is also working with the city and the Town of Bluefield to provide a safe walking passageway from the campus to City Park.

A trail through the woods reaches the park and the other way, which is used the most, is basically beside Stadium Drive.

A safer path is needed beside the road, he said, and that will be the focus of a solution.

Tonia Walker, director of athletics for the college, said football players are already working out at the center.

“Walking in here gives you the ‘Wow!’ effect,” she said of the massive amount of workout equipment. “We can’t wait to get things moving and going full-fledged here at the center.”

Walker said the college is in the process of getting cards for students to access the building.

“At some point we will have someone who oversees the property to make sure the equipment is used correctly and to make sure we can monitor who is able to enter and that they leave the facility as it was,” she said.

Olive added that the employee will also be the “point person for coordinating community use of the center.”

Those community events will be held in the other part of the center in and around the basketball court.

“Already we have been talking with the Lion’s Club about their breakfast (annual fundraiser) and we have walked with them through the gymnasium,” he said, adding that the kitchen and concessions area and how that is set up will allow the breakfast to happen.

The city already has mats that can be rolled out to protect the gym floor.

Olive said a meeting of local Realtors is scheduled later this week in that area.

“All of those types of events that have been taking place her we are going to do our very best to accommodate,” he said, adding the center will also continue to be used as a polling place.

“I have met with Mr. Moye (County Registrar Verlin Moye) and we have had a conversation about that,” he said.

Now that the weights are in place, Moye will take a look at the area and see if there is enough space in that area for voting or if it needs to be in the gym area.

“The other major community piece would be the youth basketball program,” Walker said. “We will continue that program. The person who will oversee the building will also oversee that program. We are in the midst of creating an advisory board made of staff and community members so we can make sure we are rolling out a great product and offering the community what they have had in the past.”

Olive said meetings have already been held with several community members and they have been invited to be part of the advisory group.

“This (youth basketball) is a community program and we want it to continue to be a community program,” he said.

Walker said the program also allows an opportunity for BC students to be involved and develop a relationship with the community and be “big brothers and big sisters” to youth.

The gym will also be the home basketball court for the college starting next year, she added.

Walker said the “dome” now used for basketball will continue to be utilized for other sports like volleyball and wrestling.

“This gym will become the competition site for both men’s and women’s basketball,” she said. “While we were very eager to play this year we decided to postpone that for a year to allow the proper time it will take to brand it and make sure we have transitioned over and be fully prepared to play. We will continue to play in the dome this year.”

That branding will include new colors for the gym, which seats about 1,200, and the BC logos.

“We want to make sure we have a great product, a great facility,” she said, adding that offices for basketball coaches will be located in the gym area as well.

Olive said the gym area will be the primary focus of community events and beside the mats to protect the floor the city also has tables and chairs and storage space as well as locker rooms which were upgraded earlier by the city. Restrooms throughout the facility were upgraded as well.

“We have all the materials needed for groups to host and conduct events here,” he said.

Any event will be charged the same as the city did, he added, with only an additional charge to pay someone to set up and take down, a function city workers used to do.

“The college contracts for facility services,” he said, and the extra cost will depend on the services needed for the event. “We are just trying to cover costs. We are not making any profit.”

Walker said the large rooms next to the gym will be used as multi-purpose rooms for things like yoga classes and meetings.

“We want to accommodate community usage as much as we can,” Olive said. “What we don’t want to happen is a sense the community has lost something. We want to partner to make sure we are working together in maximizing the use of the center.”

The city has done a nice job getting the center to its current condition, he said.

“We are very excited and our student athletes are excited,” Walker said. “We will be opening soon to the campus and to the community.”

Walker said that should happen within the next couple of weeks.

Olive said the overall goal is to continue what the city envisioned for the center.

“The city had developed a multi-phase upgrade to the facility,” he said, adding that air conditioning has already been installed in the weight training area as well as LED lighting, and the roof has been repaired to prevent leaks. “The third phase is to reface the outside of the facility.”

The primary entrance to the building will also change and be between the the weight room and gym where a loading entrance is now. The signage for the Sims Wellness Center should be installed soon.

“The city already has an architectural drawing showing that (refacing and new entrance),” he said. “There is a commitment on the city’s part to partner with the college at the appropriate time to seek additional funding to get the third phase of the center completed. We are excited about that opportunity too.”

In the meantime, it’s full steam ahead on creating a facility that everyone can be proud of.

“We are really excited,” Walker said.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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