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$3 Million Commitment Advances Wellness Project

December 16, 2016

At its meeting in December, the Board of Regents gave its approval for a project to create a new wellness and recreation facility, yet to be named, on the site of the Sewanee bookstore. A $3 million commitment from Lee, C’67, and Dorothy Thomas has helped move the project forward.

A design by Wier Boerner Allin of Jackson, Mississippi, leaves the building’s exterior the way it was originally built, while replacing additions that have been made in stages over decades with a new two-level building behind what is now the bookstore. The Lee and Dorothy Thomas Wellness Center will occupy most of the lower floor, along with the offices of the Sewanee Outing Program. The Thomas gift increased the total raised to date for the overall facility project to just under $8 million.

The wellness and recreation facility will house the Sewanee Outing Program, the Thomas Center, and a smaller store for publications, sundries, and grab-and-go items. A fitness center will occupy the space where the main floor of the bookstore is now, with most bookstore functions being relocated, possibly to the Sewanee Village, as part of the Village renewal program.

“From a student’s point of view, this is just a terrific project,” says Lee Thomas. “Sewanee’s plan for focusing on wellness was very attractive to us. We particularly like putting health and counseling together with the outing program and a fitness center right on University Avenue.” The Thomases were also happy with the way the architect has preserved the bookstore building.

‌“We loved the building as it was originally designed,” says Jack Allin of Wier Boerner Allin. “Some of the additions, however, are not quite as wonderful.”

The project also resonated with the Thomases’ long interest in counseling and wellness. Both were psychology majors in college, Lee at Sewanee and Dorothy at Georgia State. While Thomas is well known as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (its chief executive officer) and as chief operating officer of Georgia Pacific and then CEO at Rayonier, his career began in counseling and public health.

The plan to develop a new space for fitness, health, and recreation is particularly welcome news to students. As the student population has grown significantly over the past decade, the Fowler Center has been challenged to provide enough exercise space for students. In addition, the existing University Wellness Center is located off central campus, next to Southern Tennessee Regional Health System (formerly Emerald-Hodgson Hospital). This new project solves both those problems, adding a fitness center next door to McClurg Dining Hall and bringing wellness to the campus core. Two multipurpose rooms will offer flexible space for fitness classes and support for the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in the summer.

“Students have asked for this,” says Marichal Gentry, dean of students. “Having a new facility dedicated to health, fitness, and wellness places at the center, both literally and figuratively, an essential element of students’ lives that plays an important role in their success and academic, personal, and social development.” Gentry is excited about what the project can mean to student life. “And Sewanee students will play a major role in determining how this project takes off.”

‌‌“This just hit all the buttons for us,” says Thomas. “We love the design, and we know the project will have a direct and immediate impact on students. We are excited.”

Thomas also hopes others will step forward to contribute the remainder of the funds needed to build the facility. With a total cost of about $15 million, including the cost of relocating existing services, the University must raise another $7 million. “We think this is an exciting project that will enhance campus life for decades,” says Jay Fisher, vice president for Advancement. “We owe a debt to the Thomas family for moving us forward on the project and for challenging others to do likewise.”

If you are interested in a gift that goes beyond current-use dollars, named endowed internship funds begin at the $100,000 level. Named endowed scholarship funds begin at the $150,000 level for the College and $75,000 for the School of Theology.