This article first appeared in the Belen Jesuit Alumni Magazine, Summer 2021 edition.
Cura Personalis means to care for the entire person. Though the new Athletic Facility will most directly impact the athletic life of students, cura personalis dictates that by improving, or caring for the athletic life of students, their spiritual and academic spheres will be enriched as well. This powerfully simple Jesuit motto encapsulates the spirit of not only the upcoming Athletic Facility, but also the five-year “Strategic Plan” that led to its conception. Consequently, this Athletic Center will serve as a summit to, and bridge from, the last five years of rapid progress around the school; it signals the completion of the “Strategic Plan,” as well as the inauguration of the next five years of innovation.
President Fr. Guillermo García-Tuñón, S.J., ‘87 outlines that half of his two-fold duty as president is to propagate the development of the school in terms of its campus, educational offerings, and funding—secondary only to his role as “Guardian of the Catholic, Jesuit identity of the school.” For the first five years of his tenure as President, Fr. Willie '87 carried out this mission through the “Strategic Plan” which led to a plethora of projects such as the Our Lady of Belen Chapel, the Roberto C. Goizueta Innovation Center, the Arroyo Quad and the Dining Hall. Each of these year-long projects has already made a palpable impact on the school; students can be seen in the quad photographing plants for art projects, studying after school, or filming video projects; the aquatic center allowed Belen to host district, regional, and state championships for the first time in the school’s recent history; the innovation center has hosted teachers in various departments, from humanities to science to social studies, to aid them in the explanation of concepts. These are ways that new innovations have, in their own way, revolutionized the student experience at Belen, but what of the new athletic facility?
To be clear, the new complex will be more than “that new weight room” as a student called it following its announcement. No, instead it will be a state-of-the-art facility with spaces tailored to the needs of each of Belen’s fifteen athletic teams. "We called all the coaches together and asked them what their sports needed. The architects took these requests and returned with these plans,” said Athletic Director Carlos Barquín. The three-story, 52,000 square foot building will feature two workout rooms, a dozen treadmills, a fencing strip, dozens of ERG machines, two golf simulators, and even an altitude/temperature-controlled room. This project will truly fulfill all the needs of every sport offered at Belen. After all, it was designed with each student-athlete, faculty member, and alumnus in mind.
Robert Surís ‘79, the major benefactor and overseer of the facility’s production, sees his own personal Belen student-athlete experience as the reason why he took on that role. He was a two-sport student-athlete, excelling in both football and track, and observed the necessary link between academics and athletics. He spoke about how his involvement was spurred by Francisco “Paco” Ruiz ‘73, who was Surís’ track coach back in high school, and who is
now on the Alumni Board of Directors. However, Paco had originally only asked Surís to produce a small cross-country locker room, for which funding had been collected as early as 2015.
The decision to take on such a massive project as this one was actually an easy decision for Surís, who had been itching to contribute to his alma mater. He deeply knew that the best way to give back was through the athletic department which had such a massive role in his formation—this was the perfect opportunity to do so. This mentality of his stems from the Cura Personalis, knowing that the athletic betterment of the school will undoubtedly increase the academic success of students. Accordingly, he and his office worked efficiently to maximize the plans, and to ensure their survival through the county hearing.
You see, until April 21, 2021, the athletic facility was nothing more than brilliant ideas contained within renderings, plans, and conversations. These ephemeral plans, which had been in development for over a year and a half, could just have easily been fruitless because the scrolls of plans and the physical construction were at a stand-still with the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners.
As with any major construction project on campus, the athletic facility needed to be brought before the county commissioners. In many ways, the persistence of the project banked on the county’s approval. Despite this, no one was particularly nervous—the architects, working in consultation with Ben Fernández ‘82 and José González ‘91, made sure to cover their proverbial bases.
The proposal to the commissioners included not only the Athletic Center but also other campus improvements. In addition to the Athletic Center and parking, a covered walkway over the bridge connecting the second floor of the main building to The Roberto C. Goizueta Innovation Center was approved. The plan also included a request to construct a three-story parking garage, much further into the future. This emphasis on parking was in response to a stipulation from the commission’s approval of the near-completed chapel. They had demanded that Belen find a solution to the shortage of parking, especially for the massive events the new facilities would support. Addressing this problem helped the case for the Athletic Center and reinforced the due confidence on the part of the administration.
The official county hearing was scheduled for April 21st, and in true Belen fashion, we showed up in full force. In addition to administrators, coaches, and the architects, eleven Belen student-athletes, looking pristine in their gala jackets, entered the Stephen P. Clark Center ready to encourage the passage of something that would undoubtedly improve their student-athlete experience. The group waited in anticipation of the hearing, reviewing their speeches in case they were asked to defend the project for the commissioners.
Eventually, all were called in front of the county commission, with the line of students standing alongside the back wall, in full view of the board. Only two student-athletes actually spoke to the commission: Isaiah Fuller ‘21 and Maxton Torres ‘23. They bravely faced the county commissioners and expressed their support, on behalf of the entire student body. The commissioners could instantly see the widespread support from the community, especially the student body, and hurried the proceedings. County Commissioner Raquel Regalado of District 7, finalized the approval with an emphatic “Go Wolverines!”. The new facility will be fully operational in 2023, where it will be the proper bridge between the über successful Strategic Plan, and all of the improvements to come.
“We are very excited to be able to move forward with this project,” said Father Willie. “We wouldn’t have been able to get this Athletic Center off the ground had it not been for the work of Carlos Huembes, Ben Fernández ‘82, and José González ‘91 who worked tirelessly to get the county to approve our proposal. Not to mention, the support of Robert Surís ‘79 whose dedication to ensuring that this facility gets built is a testament to his love for Belen. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the future is bright.”
Next up, the school will have a groundbreaking ceremony in the fall. In the meantime, we continue to strive for greatness and need your help in achieving our goal. Visit www.belenjesuit.org/dedicationopportunities
, to learn about the various dedication opportunities available. If you would like to contribute to the vision of the school, please contact Felipe "Phil" Fernandez ’94 at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 305.804.7683.