FAIRFIELD — Sacred Heart University celebrated the grand opening of its Bobby Valentine Health & Recreation Center with a spirited ribbon cutting celebration Tuesday, Aug. 27, held on campus at 5151 Park Avenue.

Named in honor of the university’s Executive Director of Athletics for the past 6 years, former Major League Baseball player Bobby Valentine, the state of the art Rec Center, designed by the renowned architectural firm, the S/L/A/M Collaborative, cost $21.8 million dollars, and boasts three stories and 57,400 square feet of space, encompassing one of the most advanced athletic facilities in the nation.

The facility houses an indoor track, a bowling center, an 18-bike spin center, a 45-foot rock climbing wall and exercise and weight training rooms. “This is another example of our commitment to the full student experience, academic, social and well-being, we’re really excited about this project,” said Sacred Heart’s president, Dr. John Petillo.

“What a fabulous day having this building behind me,” said James Barquinero, Senior VP. “We knew we needed something new, we had so many kids fighting over the same space. With Mr. Valentine’s presence and his energy and his leadership, and with the others involved with the athletic center, this is the building that all of us were able to work together and create. It’s perfect.”

Since the Pitt Center opened, explained Dean of Students Larry Wielk, “Our full time undergraduate student population has more than doubled to over 5,300 students and our overall population is at 9,000. More importantly, the exponential growth in our varsity and club sports programs as well as the recreational needs of the entire student population has demanded the need for additional facilities. This new center will now be the home for our 33 club sport programs and more than 1,000 participants. It will allow us to expand our intramural programs and to provide a dedicated, non-varsity, state of the art fitness center. Our club sports athletic training staff will have their own dedicated space to call home.”

“The center shows the university’s strong commitment to the well-being of all its students, as well as to its 32 NCAA Division 1 teams, who will now have sole use of the William H. Pitt Center,” said Valentine. The new facility, built on the north end zone of Campus Field, also allows Sacred Heart University the opportunity to reconfigure the exercise and weight training areas in the 21- year- old Pitt Center to better serve the university’s 855 student-athletes.

“This building is part of a dream we had because it fits in to who we are,” said Petillo. “We’ve said over and over again that athletics is just one part of this transformational journey for our students, it’s the whole person. The health care and the socialization are very critical parts of that transformation and this facility I believe will enable that.”

State Sen. Tony Hwang said, “The grand opening of the Bobby Valentine Health & Recreation Center coinciding with the start of the new academic year at Sacred Heart University is perfect. The center is all about enhancing the student academic and health experience, focusing on club and intramural team competitions and offering amenities. Ultimately, it reflects the generous and student driven contributions of charitable donors helping to fulfill the student- athlete complement to the academic mission of SHU.”

“I had the privilege of being here when we had the grand opening of the Pitt Center 20 years ago,” said Wielk. “That was so thrilling but as we grew as a school, the Pitt Center stayed the same size. We went D1 with all the Varsity Athletes, added club sports with another 800 athletes, intramurals, and recreation. We knew we needed something like this, with Bobby’s energy here as a catalyst, we got things moving. To have this dedication today to compliment the one we had 20 years ago is absolutely fantastic. The schools growth has been tremendous.”

Beverly Balaz, president of the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce, said they are happy to have their member SHU, “celebrate the grand opening of their new, state of the art Bobby Valentine Health & Recreation Center with a ribbon cutting and ceremony. The students will love the center, bringing fitness and health into a beautifully designed building — congratulations SHU!”

“It should be no surprise that Sacred Heart University is growing and in such a classy and professional way,” said Gary MacNamara, executive director for Public Safety and Government Affairs at SHU. “To have Bobby Valentine here is significant, to have a building that represents his vision for wellness, both physical and emotion, is so powerful.”

“Today is a day of thanks,” continued Valentine, who along with Petillo thanked supporters. “I’m so excited to give our teams the training space they need to excel, while encouraging a healthy lifestyle and fun social opportunities for everyone on campus.”

The new center is also slated to be a used as a social hub for students, providing a 7,000 square foot fitness center for cardiovascular workouts, free and cable weights, circuit training, CrossFit opportunities, a 5,000 square foot bowling center complete with LED widescreen monitors, a Golf Simulator, a miniature golf course, an upper patio, a Robeks Smoothies & Juice Bar, “encouraging students to relax and recharge with a protein smoothie.”

“To have the Bobby Valentine Health & Recreation Center as the major exclamation point of my giving, of my caring and of my work in this community and in my life, all I can say, is what I do every day when I think of how lucky I’ve been, I thank God for everything he has done for me and I thank you all for allowing me to be here with you today and to have my name on this fabulous facility. Go Pioneers!”

“We aren’t stopping our growth here, across the street construction continues for our next set of residential facilities,” added Dean Wielk.