The rumbles of heavy machinery can now be heard on the College’s California campus, where construction has begun on a new athletic center, made possible by a $15 million grant from the Fritz B. Burns Foundation of Los Angeles. The facility, which will likely be completed before the start of the 2021–22 academic year, will bear the name of a saint of recent times who was both a friend of the young and a champion of physical fitness: Pope St. John Paul II.

“We are deeply grateful to the Fritz B. Burns Foundation, which has supported the construction of several buildings at the College and now surpasses its past generosity with its largest grant to date,” says President Michael F. McLean. “For generations to come, the students of Thomas Aquinas College, California, will exercise their bodies in the Pope St. John Paul II Athletic Center, as they train their minds in our classrooms and nurture their souls in the Chapel.”

Located on the previous site of the campus’ outdoor basketball and tennis courts, just behind St. Junipero Serra Hall, the 17,000-square-foot Pope St. John Paul II Athletic Center is designed to visually connect the upper and lower parts of the campus.

From the exterior, its most distinctive feature will be a four-story clock tower, loosely modeled after the one in Santa Barbara’s historic City Hall. To the rear, or south, of the building will be the athletic center’s six-lane, 25-yard waveless lap pool, as well as lighted outdoor tennis and basketball courts. New soccer and baseball fields, complete with bleacher seating, will be visible just to the building’s west. And, to the front, the arched vestibule will look onto a campus picnic area that will host All-College Barbeques and other events.

On the inside, the Pope St. John Paul II Athletic Center will feature a gymnasium equipped with beautiful hardwood floors — configured for basketball and volleyball — spectator seating, and an electronic scoreboard. The College’s men and women will enjoy separate weight and workout rooms, which will connect to locker rooms and the swimming pool. Housed within the bell tower will be a feature that promises to be a favorite among students: a climbing room that boasts two 32-foot-high scaling walls and a 12-foot-high bouldering wall.

When it came time to choose a name for the athletic center, officials from the College and the Fritz B. Burns Foundation were unanimous that Pope St. John Paul II — a lifelong athlete who wrote eloquently about what the human body can teach us about its Creator — would be the ideal patron. “In our consultations with the Foundation’s directors,” says Dr. McLean, “we came to see that John Paul II could serve as an especially meaningful model for our students in his athleticism, his scholarship, and his holiness.”

The architect for the Pope St. John Paul II Athletic Center is Anthony Grumbine (’00), principal at the Santa Barbara office of Harrison Design, an alumnus of the College, and the father of two current students. Mr. Grumbine, together with his business partner, Nic Charbonneau, designed the renovation plans for Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel on the New England campus. Mr. Grumbine is a graduate of the master’s program at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture, where he studied under Duncan Stroik, the design architect for Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel.

“As an architect whose mentor designed the California Chapel — arguably one of the most beautiful and successful sacred buildings built since World War II — it is an incredible honor to be a part of the College’s continued legacy of beauty, truth, and goodness in built form,” says Mr. Grumbine. “I think back almost 25 years ago to my days at TAC and remember playing basketball with then-president Thomas Dillon, who used to tell us that ‘one day there will be a great gym here at TAC, with gorgeous wood floors.’ What a privilege it is to be part of making that dream a reality!”

Serving as contractor for the athletic center is RCI Builders of Thousand Oaks, California, whose previous work includes several athletic facilities in the region, among them the Westlake Village YMCA and the new headquarters for the Los Angeles Rams. “We began this project almost two years ago by surveying members of the community as to which features they would value most for our athletic facilities,” says Mark Kretschmer, the College’s vice president for operations. “We then began the lengthy process of designing the new facilities and getting the permits to build them. So it’s exciting to have at last reached the construction phase.”

Work on the Pope St. John Paul II Athletic Center is expected to be completed sometime next summer. “Our students have long waited to have an athletic center on this campus,” says Dr. McLean. “By God’s grace and thanks to the Fritz B. Burns Foundation’s wonderful generosity, their patience will soon be rewarded with an excellent facility worthy of its patron’s name.”

Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us!