By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
Jeff Underwood remembers when staffers at Lakeshore Foundation went to the board and asked for more space.
Underwood remembers that request, which came about 22 years ago, being met with questions from board members about what would be accomplished with that space.
“I remember the presentation I made, and we had a lot of conversation,” said Underwood, the Lakeshore CEO. “If we get this building, we’ll do this many more classes, we’ll serve this many more people. We’re going to do everything we can to become the (Olympic/Paralympic) training site, we’re going to start a research program.”
That request yielded the Lakeshore Foundation Fieldhouse, which has given prospective Olympians and Paralympians a place to train. It’s also provided a place where disabled individuals throughout Alabama have been able to improve their quality of life.
“I think we’ve long met and surpassed what we said we would do if we had more building,” Underwood said. “It’s exciting over the years that we’ve grown to the point where we needed some additional space, which we’ve just now brought online.”
Lakeshore Foundation and Hoar Construction last week announced the completion of the latest development project on the Lakeshore campus, a $17.5 million expansion of the Master Campus in Homewood.
Hoar served as general contractor on several recent projects across the campus. Working with Lakeshore Foundation and KPS, Hoar worked to provide state-of-the-art facilities and equipment that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act for both athletes and local users.
Immediately apparent during a visit to the campus in Homewood are enhancements to the outdoor space in front of and beyond the fieldhouse.
The intent was to create a relaxing and meditative atmosphere surrounding the campus, providing gathering spaces. Several new outdoor spaces were created, including Campus Commons, the Contemplative Garden and the Woodland Walk.
The recent additions include a 21,000-square-foot addition to the multipurpose facility that is the centerpiece of the Lakeshore campus.
The expansion includes a multimedia lab, teleconsultation suites, innovation lab, video production lab, culinary/nutrition lab, clinical exercise lab, mindfulness lab, lobby, open office space, café and board room.
The culinary lab includes a demonstration kitchen with adjustable-height stovetops and state-of-the art technology tools for nutritional and culinary education. The multimedia lab and teleconsultation suites feature flat-screen monitors and advanced audio-visual technology for staff to interact with athletes and users remotely.
Underwood referenced a strategic plan that was developed in about 2010 to 2012. From that came the realization that Lakeshore had to go beyond physical activity.
“It can’t just be the fitness and aquatics and sport, which we’ve done very well,” he said. “We had to include in our range of services nutrition and mindfulness.
“We also had a feeling at the time that the use of technology to deliver our program was going to become even more important,” Underwood continued. “I tell you, the last six months has really underscored that tremendously.”
The addition of digital technology has allowed athletic training and life skills instruction to take place remotely.
Upgrades to the Wallace Gym bring a bit of a Back to the Future feel.
“The original Lakeshore Foundation facility was there,” Underwood said. “It has now been renovated and converted totally into a UAB/Lakeshore research facility.”
In 2009, the Lakeshore Foundation collaborated with UAB in a first-of-its-kind partnership between a major academic research university and a nonprofit serving individuals with physical disabilities.
Nick Cotumaccio, vice president of operations for Hoar Construction’s Healthcare Division, said that partnership was housed inside the Lakeshore fieldhouse until work was done to improve the old Wallace Gym. Underwood said research is a key motivation in that space.
“That collaboration has been so successful in getting external NIH and CDC and other grants that they ran out of space pretty quickly,” the Lakeshore CEO said. “A big part of the space in the new addition is related to the research staff.”
That includes a dance studio that’s mostly used in research projects related to dance.
“A lot of our nutrition work relates to diet and obesity, which are big issues in this state,” he said. “We’re not totally driven by but predominantly driven by what was going on in research.”
Wallace Gym renovations provided more than 20,000 square feet of research space, allowing UAB and Lakeshore to lead the world in research programs in rehabilitative science.
The 8,900-square-foot Magnolia Hall, which drew its name years ago from a pair of magnolia trees planted nearby, also has been repurposed.
“It’s now leased to Children’s of Alabama for outpatient clinics,” the Lakeshore CEO said. “That’s just absolutely fabulous for us to have Children’s on our campus because those children and their parents are coming out to this campus for various types of outpatient treatment – mostly related to physical medicine, rehab pediatrics, orthopedics – and in that process, they get in the habit of coming out here.”
Children’s of Alabama hospital uses that space to provide outpatient physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and hearing rehabilitation services for children and young adults.
“We all know that buildings by themselves don’t really serve people,” Underwood said. “It takes the staff and the commitment of everybody involved to really get the work done. But the building has really served our purposes very well.”