Calling all Penn track and field fans, mark your calendars — the Jane and David Ott Center for Track and Field is on schedule to be completed by August 29, 2024.
Last March, Penn Athletics announced the construction of a $69.35 million, 73,000 gross square feet, state-of-the-art indoor track and field facility to be built on the southeast corner of Penn’s campus — nestled between Rhodes Field and the Hollenback Center. Today, the project’s progression can be seen driving on I-76 along the Schuylkill River.
“We're about a year plus into a 25-month schedule,” Senior Project Manager Mark Breitenbach said. “The steel is going up and it's probably 65% complete right now. I think in a couple of weeks and through the end of the year, we'll see the steel finish, the roof will get completed, and then the exterior skin around the building. That should all be finishing up by the end of the year — plus or minus a week or two.
“Then they'll actually go inside and begin excavation for underground utilities and pour the slab," he continued. "Slab should also be done by the end of the year. Once that's done, we can begin, in earnest, finishing out the inside of the building. A lot is going on.”
Once completed, the Ott Center will give Penn track and field its first ever indoor practice and competition facility, and finally give all eight Ivy League schools a permanent home for their indoor track programs. Set to feature a banked track, long and high jump pits, a throwing area, and roughly 1000 spectator seats, the ultramodern facility will immensely benefit both the Quakers and larger Philadelphia community.
“I keep calling it a home because a basketball team goes to the gym and plays a game; that's their home,” coach Steve Dolan said. “We've never really had an indoor home for track and field where the whole team could gather and practice together.”
Though its main purpose is to serve as a training ground during stretches of unpleasant winter weather and/or unexpected rain, its utilization as a host site for competitions is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Harsh, consistent rain bared down on Franklin Field on days two and three of the 127th running of Penn Relays in April 2023. Though conditions weren’t dangerous enough to halt certain field events — such as the pole vault — should that be the case in future years, the Ott Center would yield an invaluable alternative venue for contests and athlete warm ups.
“Franklin Field is such a great outdoor track and field venue, but we do compete a full indoor season, and the weather is difficult here in the wintertime,” Dolan said. “So for us to be able to train on a daily basis during the indoor season, it's going to be a really big deal. Then also there's hosting. We’re already applying to host the Ivy League [Heptagonal Indoor Track and Field] Championships in a couple of years and it's just going to be really great for the sport to have that on our campus.”
But hopes don’t end just there. The program also has eyes on potentially hosting the NCAA Championships sometime in the future.
The Ott Center will also dramatically shift how Penn track and field practices. Currently, distance runners tend to bare the elements and run outside all season long. The jumpers and sprinters spend parts of their time in the Air Structure, or the Bubble, at Penn Park. Some groups hit the weight room to focus on resistance training. The indoor facility will offer a centralized space for building team camaraderie and cohesiveness, providing a place for the team to assemble each afternoon — regardless of the forecast.
As a track and field enthusiast, Dolan eagerly anticipates the broader impact the Ott Center will have on Penn’s campus. Open hours will serve the University’s community members, local high schools, youth, masters, and fitness fans well.
“The alums from way back keep saying ‘I can't believe it's actually happening,’ ” Dolan added. “We've been talking about this for a long time, and the time has come.”
In fact, it is said Penn track and field alumni that are making the project possible. The 200-meter track itself will be named to honor Penn alumna Adria Sheth and her husband Brian's contribution to the program. 1977 Wharton alumnus Jay Alix — former thrower for the Red and Blue — donated $17.5 million towards the field, which combined with the lead gift from David and Jane Ott — two track alumni who met at Penn — reign in this exciting era for the Quakers. Associate Athletic Director of Facilities Noah Gustkey encourages those interested in additional naming opportunities to contact Athletics Director of Development and Alumni Relations Jamie Rauscher at email@example.com for further details.
As for neighboring facilities, Gustkey confirmed that the Air Structure will not be impacted, expecting it to go up on an annual basis as usual. The rebuilding of Rhodes Field is set to start soon, continuing though next spring, with full restoration anticipated for the start of preseason camps in the middle of next August.
The project will also connect the Ott Center and Rhodes Field through a variety of shared amenities, such as a bathroom facility and concession stand accessible from the outside soccer side and indoor track end. Gustkey doesn’t predict the opening of the Ott Center to impact Franklin Field’s open operation hours.
“It's an exciting time for Penn track and field, and what's fun is, now it seems real,” Dolan said. “You see the big beams going up and the building taking shape right before you. As you see the building going up, it becomes a new part of Penn’s skyline.”