Franklin College Announces New Athletics Annex with Johnson Memorial Health
By Christa Shephard
As the days roll deeper into 2021, having emerged from the calamity of 2020, people might find themselves searching for good news on the horizon. Franklin College is here to offer exactly that, in the form of a new, indoor sports facility.
In December the college announced its plan to build the Johnson Memorial Health Athletics Annex with a $1 million donation from Johnson Memorial Health, a hospital with which the college has a long-running partnership. The new project has been inspired by the college’s quickly expanding sports programs.
“We now have turned our attention to the fact that we’ve gotten behind on our indoor facilities,” says Franklin College President Kerry Prather. “So we’re looking at a couple of different steps in the process, but Step 1 has been the desire to create kind of a wide-open practice area that is utilitarian for ultimately almost every sport.”
The Johnson Memorial Health Athletics Annex will include turfed space, retractable batting cages, nets for golfing and a second weight room for the campus to enjoy.
Prather says, “We’ve got, in addition to 21 intercollegiate sports, great interest among the non-athlete student population, faculty [and] staff in weight training as well. So providing a second weight room will alleviate some distress that we currently have on the single weight room in Spurlock.”
Expanding the offerings
The college is expected to continue to grow. Currently, more than 40% of Franklin College students participate in sports. Add in the non-athletic students and employees who are interested in the new facility, and there is plenty of need for a new center.
“What we’ve found is that this generation of students … comes to us with a greater interest in facilities related to wellness activities [and] fitness activities,” Prather says. “There’s just a greater interest in, awareness of and commitment to physical health. So the aerobic area that we have in Spurlock Center — treadmills, ellipticals — is busy all the time. And there’s great interest in using the weight room, too. We just want to make sure that we can accommodate as much of that as we possibly can.”
The annex is meant to support all of Franklin College, not just the student athletes.
“We’ve always been very inclusive of students, faculty, staff,” says Athletic Director Andy Hendricks. “We’ve always had flexible space and flexible policies. [The annex] will absolutely be available to a much broader audience than just student athletes.”
The annex will not be available for broad community use, but that shouldn’t dampen the community’s enthusiasm. “The purpose of addressing our facility needs is to address the needs of our students,” says Prather. “That helps attract and retain students. It all is a part of ensuring a prosperous future for the college, and to the extent that the college is a major player in the community and in the county, that serves everyone’s interest.”
More directly, the children and young adults of Johnson County will benefit from the opportunity to experience the annex firsthand.
“Where it would benefit residents would be that it will open more doors for camps and clinics for visiting high school programs, club programs,” Hendricks says. “The community in general will benefit greatly just from the fact that their children will have opportunities to come to Franklin College and participate in collegiate-level instruction with much upgraded facilities.”
Additionally, the new annex will make Franklin College a more enticing option for incoming athletes. As the school’s programs evolve, the facility will better support them.
Hendricks says, “Our strength and conditioning program continues to get better and better, and students are coming into college now with more experience in weight rooms than they once had. And, of course, if you go around the state and see the weight rooms some of these high schools have nowadays, they’re quite elaborate. So this will help us really meet that demand of what high school student athletes are looking for.”
The Johnson Memorial Health Athletics Annex isn’t the first time Franklin College and Johnson Memorial Health have teamed up to benefit the school and the community. Their partnership is one of growth and opportunity, a symbiotic relationship to benefit each other and all of Franklin and Johnson County.
“We’ve had a long-standing relationship with the college,” says Dr. David Dunkle, JMH CEO. “One of the main things I wanted to do when I took over as the CEO here at Johnson Memorial was strengthen local partnerships, and Franklin College is a valued partner.”
From providing internship opportunities to being the preferred medical provider at the college, Johnson Memorial Health has been tightly enmeshed with the school for years.
“I can think about health services going back to the early ’90s when I was a student there,” says Dunkle. “Franklin [College] and the hospital have been closely intertwined. We have a campus nurse there; we host students here in the physician assistant program and athletic training program.”
The partnership has been a natural one, evolving over time to help the growing college flourish.
“It actually has existed for a long time in bits and pieces,” says Prather. “What we’ve tried to do in recent years is to make it more consistent, but we have long had First Medical Group within the Johnson Memorial network servicing our students on a regular basis in terms of a doctor’s availability on campus.”
Prior to donating to the opening of a new athletic facility, Johnson Memorial Health has been heavily involved in the school’s medical and clinical programs.
“We had a very successful coming together in terms of the Immediate Care facility on Acorn Street when we needed to create a home for graduate health sciences,” Prather says. “So we partnered again with Johnson Memorial so that we occupy the lower level of that facility with our graduate programs, athletic training and physician studies.”
While the Johnson Memorial Health Athletics Annex is still in its infancy, the concept has the entire school abuzz. “Part of the reason why we made the announcement when we did was the great partnership with JMH is awesome for us as an institution,” Hendricks says, “but we are determined to get this project rolling and done.”
The promise of a new athletic facility serves as hope on the horizon after a tumultuous year for students of all kinds, but athletes especially.
“We’re excited. We’re ready to move on, that’s for sure,” he says. “Something like this gives student athletes a bright spot because they haven’t had a lot of bright spots this year.”