After extensive renovations, East Stroudsburg University’s Koehler Fieldhouse is ready for the best of times – graduations, basketball games, concerts — and the worst of times, including 2012 when Koehler was used as a mega shelter for people in the region who needed temporary housing following Hurricane Sandy, or more recently in 2020 when the facility was setup to serve as a COVID-19 field hospital.
That’s what the Monroe County Commissioners had in mind when they earmarked $1.3 million of the $15.4 million the county received from the federal CARES Act to pay for an air conditioning system at Koehler Fieldhouse that will enable ESU students and the greater community to have clean, fresh, cool air when necessary – especially during warm spring and summer months, when the facility is used on excessively hot days for athletic practices, to welcome large groups for commencement ceremonies and other community events, and in regional emergency situations. The new air conditioning unit adds additional value in light of the pandemic; it has the capability of increasing the rate of air change, reducing air recirculation and increasing the amount of outdoor air to thwart the spread of COVID-19. A new 550-kilowatt generator, funded by a $360,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), ensures the Fieldhouse will retain electricity during power outages like the one that left Monroe County residents without power for three days in March of 2017.
“The addition of a generator and air conditioning system to Koehler Fieldhouse maximizes the functionality of the building, not only for the campus but for the community,” said Mary Frances Postupack, ESU vice president of economic development and entrepreneurship, who spearheaded the effort to obtain funding for both initiatives.
Sharon Laverdure, chair of the Monroe County Commissioners, agreed, saying Koehler’s location, size and facilities make it a logical shelter for large emergencies, in part due to its proximity to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Pocono, the downtown, bus routes and major thoroughfares, such as I-80.
“In case of an emergency, Koehler Fieldhouse can impact virtually every citizen in Monroe County,” Laverdure said. “If something terrible happens, it is there for the community as an emergency shelter.”
Early in the coronavirus pandemic, the nearly 85,000-square-foot fieldhouse built in 1966 was designated as an “alternate-care site” that could accept 200 patients recovering from COVID if the region’s hospitals became overwhelmed. Because air conditioning was not available, temporary units were rented and installed.
Fortunately, Koehler wasn’t needed but having the permanent COVID-filtering air conditioning and ventilation system plus the generator will ensure its readiness for future emergencies.
Thomas Hughes, PEMA state hazard mitigation officer, said “the PEMA investment in a generator in Koehler Fieldhouse expands the functionality and reliability of the fieldhouse for potential emergency situations. It is important to maintain a statewide inventory of state-affiliated and supported locations.”
The renovation of the 46,000-square-foot arena includes a new four-sided scoreboard with high-definition video screens, flooring and a fresh painting of the ESU Warrior.
NCAA college basketball now requires arenas to have scoreboards that are more technologically sophisticated than Koehler’s previous 1994 scoreboard with its analog technology.
“The scoreboard upgrade was a must,” said Dr. Gary R. Gray, ESU director of athletics. “It was a heavy financial lift for the University, but we anticipate recouping the cost through scoreboard advertisements, sponsorships and facility rentals. Restoration of the arena floor became necessary after the COVID field hospital was on site.”
ESU Interim President Kenneth Long stated that the upgrades will benefit not just University students and teams but also members of the public who use the fieldhouse for activities ranging from voting poll stations to basketball tournaments to fitness testing for law enforcement.
“There are various first responder and military agencies, not just in our county but in surrounding counties, that do their fitness testing at ESU,” he said. “The indoor track in January is indispensable when there are 10 inches of snow outside.”
Popular community events regularly held at Koehler include the Perryman Keglovits Foundation’s annual basketball game for all-stars from area high schools. Event proceeds go to the Dale and Frances Hughes Cancer Center at Lehigh Valley Hospital – Pocono. There are also long-standing camp contracts with organizations that use ESU’s facilities for youth programs and other community events.
Additional updates to Koehler are in the works, including the installation of a new sound system that will improve the quality of sound throughout the arena for important events like graduation, and will also aid in providing effective communication with large groups in the course of an emergency. Also planned is a life-cycle renovation and upgrade of the football locker room, which is the focus of a fundraising campaign led by head coach Jimmy Terwilliger and a committee of current and former coaches and athletes, with help from the ESU Foundation. The locker room project is expected to be completed before the 2021 season begins.