Lamoni, Iowa – Graceland University is pleased to announce that the project to renovate and enhance Morden Center, the university’s iconic gymnasium, commenced last week. After two years of planning, much of it amidst a pandemic, the university is thrilled to begin the construction phase. Originally built in 1969 and formerly known as the Eugene and Julia Closson Physical Education Center, the building was renamed after Graceland alumni and supporters, Paul ’36 and Louise ’43 Morden, in 2019.
Louise provided the lead gift to honor her late husband and was joined by many other donors to fund the renovation, which will completely replace over 60,000 square feet of roofing material, add air conditioning, and modernize the lighting and sound system for the gymnasium that supports many university activities.
“Graceland has been an important fixture in my life and in that of my late husband, Paul. To honor him, I am excited for the opportunity to share our love for Graceland with generations of students to come.” — Louise Morden
Joining the Morden lead donor team is Richard J. Resch ’58, whose name will adorn center court, acknowledging his lifetime of service to the Graceland community. “As a young man, Graceland had a profound impact on me, shaping my learning interests and setting me on a course for professional success. It’s with great pride and respect for the university that I make this gift,” Resch said.
To help with the project, Graceland selected architecture firm Shive-Hattery, led by architect Johnny Boyd, who expressed the firm’s excitement for working on this project, “We were instantly impressed by the level of innovation involved in the building’s design and bold form. Our architects committed in their first campus visit to saving, renovating and restoring this one-of-kind structure and super important element of the university’s fabric.”
Joining Shive-Hattery as the lead contractor is the Hansen Company of Johnston, Iowa. Grant Taylor, Hansen Company Vice President said, “Not only are we fortunate to have such capable and dedicated partners for this complex and distinctive project; we’re also honored to be a part of a one-of-a-kind facility that every past and present Graceland visitor remembers.”
The building is an imposing structure, reminiscent of a covered wagon. Morden is one of the most heavily used buildings on campus where student-athletes from Graceland’s 21 varsity sports practice and compete, but also where students compete in intramural sports, participate in student life activities, and celebrate graduation.
“We are thrilled to partner with Shive-Hattery and Hansen Company on this exciting and necessary project for the Graceland community,” said Patricia H. Draves, Graceland University President. “This project will impact Gracelanders for decades to come.”
Boyd marveled at the structure’s initial design, “Constructed with three monumental steel arches and an innovative tension system of steel bands, the roof of Morden Center soars above the floor in dramatic fashion. Still today, as intended, in 1969, by the building’s original architects, Shaver and Company. Our team of dedicated engineers and architects have reveled in their work to study, engineer, and design the renovations bringing this mid-20th century marvel of engineering into the modern age with state-of-the-art building construction and sports systems.”
The renovation will certainly have its challenges. Taylor said, “The Morden Center is an irreplaceable structure. To fully renovate it without compromising its design is the right thing to do but not an easy task. It’s much easier to build a brand-new facility from the ground up but that is also more expensive and doesn’t honor the past or the legacy of this amazing facility. When we’re done it’ll be obvious that we put in place millions of dollars’ worth of work while not altering the iconic look and user-experience of what serves as the ‘Center of the Universe’ for athletes, students, faculty, and visitors at Graceland University.”
“This project will impact students for the better,” said Dave Schaal, Dean of Students. “Morden Center isn’t just about athletics – though that’s a big part of it. Graceland students all have their own fond memories of the building and I am so excited to see new life breathed into this amazing facility.”