A rendering shows the rebuilt Branch Rickey Arena, set to open at the end of October. (Courtesy Ohio Wesleyan University)

Wood roof stays in complete rebuild at Ohio Wesleyan University

By the time Ohio Wesleyan University cuts the ribbon on a completely revamped Branch Rickey Arena, only the wood roof structure will remain. 

The $4 million re-creation of the arena — the home of the school’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, volleyball team and wrestling team — is underway with plans for an end-of-October opening. The project will give the 44-year-old arena new flooring, bleachers, scoreboards, lights, sound, locker rooms and gathering areas. It will also add air conditioning.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Doug Zipp, athletic director at the university in Delaware, Ohio, about 25 miles north of Columbus. “This has been in the works for several years, and we have been spending the last two years fundraising.”

The home of the NCAA Division III Battling Bishops needed to have all the project’s dollars in hand. Zipp said they reached that goal in January and have moved full steam ahead on the project since then. 

The arena is being gutted, leaving only the all-wood roof structure in place. Along with a fresh take on all the furnishings, the training room will move from the third floor to the first, the locker rooms will get an update and a new lobby entry and gathering spaces will open for students to congregate to study and allow building to have space for pregame or postgame receptions or other informal small gatherings. 

The rebuilt arena will seat about 1,600, down slightly because of the addition of handicapped seating. The wooden bleachers dating to 1976 will be replaced with chair back seats and new bleachers. “We are modernizing the space,” Zipp said. 

The project, designed by The Collaborative, a Toledo, Ohio, architectural firm that has done work on the campus, was funded with contributions from donors, including from 1955 graduate Douglas H. Dittrick and First Commonwealth Bank. The new scoreboard will include the bank’s name and logo. 

The reconfigured main lobby will highlight current Bishops athletes, Ohio Wesleyan champions and the legacy of the building’s namesake, Branch Rickey, a 1904 Ohio Wesleyan graduate who as president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson in the 1940s. 

Additional renovations include converting a nearby racquetball court into a concession stand and ticket window, refurbishing all public restrooms and creating an All-American lounge with touchscreens, couches, chairs and gathering spaces on the second floor.

The Branch Rickey Arena project is a part of the school’s Connect Today, Create Tomorrow campaign, a seven-year effort scheduled to conclude in June 2021 that has taken in over $213 million in gifts and commitments. 

Ohio Wesleyan competes in the North Coast Athletic Conference of Division III, and by undertaking the renovation “this will bring us right back up toward the top, where we belong” with other schools in the conference. “Branch Rickey is still one of the most iconic arenas in the conference by look and feel and game-time environment,” Zipp said. “As you know, it is an arms race out there with facilities.”