Varner Hall, Athletics to receive renovations in $78 million construction project


Nicole Morsfield

SMTD pivots curriculum to a hybrid setting, with some online classes and some very small in-person classes in order to ensure student safety.

Katie Valley, Content Editor

Varner Hall and Oakland University Athletics are getting some renovations.

The OU Board of Trustees (BOT) approved construction of campus arts and athletics facilities, following a $78 million general revenue bond issuance approval at the June 10 Board meeting.

The renovations will mark the first time Varner will be updated since it was built in 1970. The Student Athlete Development Center will also be expanded to offer additional space for students.

Varner’s renovations focus on modernizing the building and improving student experience. According to Amy Hardison Tully, the new School of Music, Theatre and Dance (SMTD) director, issues with heating and cooling, leaky windows and other structural problems in classrooms will be addressed. 

Although the project itself is not yet approved, renovations are likely to include more space made behind the stage in the Recital Hall, upgraded technology in the blackbox theater and additional rehearsal spaces for students. The performance hall technology will also be upgraded to catch up with other, more modernized areas.

Tully said the renovations will be done with intent to improve in-class and outside-of-class experiences for students.

“Students deserve to have 21st-century facilities, and in that I include the technology that goes along with that,” she said. “That’s very important to every college on campus, and certainly the students in Varner are no different.”

Out of the $78 million, Tully said Varner may receive about $45 million, with much of the money going toward structural repairs. The Student Athlete Development Center construction will receive $5 million, and an additional $7-10 million will be fundraised, according to Athletic Director Steve Waterfield.

The development center construction, which will be repurposing the site of the old Lepley pool, has two main elements: the Student Athlete Development Center and a basketball practice facility to accommodate increased need for the O’rena.

Waterfield said the development center aspect will provide athletes space for academic meetings, a performance nutrition area and other offices for student academic development staff, an upgrade from the current, smaller study area. The basketball element includes adding men’s and women’s locker rooms, a film room and coaches’ offices for staff.

Waterfield’s main goal is to raise the exposure and reputation of OU by granting student athletes more access to resources to promote success.

“[All of the renovations] go toward supporting our student athletes,” Waterfield said. “And my primary goal is to give them the resources to reach their potential athletically, academically and personally … I’ve seen how they have been able to excel with what they have, and I’m just excited to eventually — and there’s a lot of work left to be done — give them an opportunity to have more resources so they can really continue to accomplish wonderful things for the university.”

Pride is an important outcome of the upcoming construction, according to Tully.

“For [the SMTD], as one of the oldest buildings on campus, there’s also a sense of pride in that,” Tully said. “This building houses a number of different departments. Ours happens to be one that’s the most visible to the public … I think the community will also have a sense of pride when they come here and see that we are literally putting our money where our mouth is.”

New research labs will also be added to campus and improvements will be made to the central heating plant. According to John Beaghan, vice president for finance and administration and treasurer of the BOT, the construction has no official start date yet.