BYRON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The largest Special Olympics facility in the world will soon be right here in Kent County, organization leaders say.
The former South Christian High School campus on 68th Street in Cutlerville is set to become the Unified Sports and Inclusion Center, serving nearly 21,000 athletes and their unified partners from across the state.
“Provide an opportunity for our athletes to be front and center,” Special Olympics Michigan representative Bo Parker said about the project. “Often times our athletes aren’t the ones that get to be front and center. This whole experience through renovating this building but also the potential that it holds, it’s so exciting.”
The project was first announced in November 2019 and it’s going full steam ahead now with an end date in sight.
“This is going to be a hub and the gold standard for training facilities like this,” Parker said. “This will be a game-changer for not only athletes in West Michigan but also including the rest of the state.”
The first phase of construction already wrapped up last December with a 127,000-square-foot nonprofit hub for ten different organizations supporting those with physical and intellectual disabilities.
“They are creating a hub, a community for a lot of individuals with intellectual disabilities to be able to come together,” Parker said. “That community is so important to us.”
Phase two kicks off later this spring or early summer, creating an outdoor athletic complex. It will feature an eight-lane track, flag football fields, bocce courts and an outdoor promenade to host events like parades and award ceremonies.
“We’re gonna be able to create a world-class experience for our athletes from competition to awards to also health and wellness training,” Parker said. “This is going to be tailor-made for our athletes.”
The last phase starts this fall with more renovations inside the main building, like common areas and classrooms. Parker said the hub will be an “all-inclusive experience” for athletes, from leadership training to health and wellness exercises to cooking classes.
Parker said it can be a challenge for local athletes to find reliable facilities to practice at, speaking to the importance of having a dedicated hub.
“Often times we have to cater to other facilities and their schedule and what they have and when they can fit us in,” Parker said. “That’s not the case for this building. They are the first in line for practice space, competition space and really doing everything that Special Olympics does.”
The entire project, estimated to cost between $20 million and $25 million, is expected to finally wrap up next March if everything goes according to plan.
“Over time, it’s been really inspiring seeing the changes and the development throughout the course of the building, but then also to see our athletes go through the building as well too and realize this is the space for them,” Parker said. “This is the space they can really make their own.”