Baylor will be wishing its live bear mascots, Joy and Lady, a happy housewarming this summer when their new habitat is completed.
After a yearlong effort that raised $950,000, Baylor will break ground officially on the new bruin digs at the site of the current facility at 2 p.m. Feb. 4, with completion of the project expected in July.
Baylor adopted and housed its first live mascot, Bruin, in 1917. The Steve Hudson Memorial Bear Plaza, currently home to Joy and Lady, was built in 1976 in the center of campus. Recently, Baylor Chamber of Commerce and school officials asked an architectural firm experienced in creating animal habitats to re-evaluate and enhance the area. The bears' trainer, Charles Lucenay, also contributed suggestions.
Cathy Pleitz, director of special projects and campaign coordinator for the project, said that updating the facility is important for the bears, the University and the Waco community. "It's the No. 1 visitor site on campus, so we have students and alumni coming, but we also have a great deal of traffic off of Interstate 35," she said. "We are a first-class university, and I think it's important to have a top-notch habitat for our bears."
Lucenay, a junior from Dallas double-majoring in business and telecommunications, said the current habitat was state-of-the-art when it was built, but technology has come a long way. "The bears have a great quality of life now, but this will provide them with enrichment opportunities more like what they would experience in the wild," he said.
The new facility, which will be named the Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat Complex in honor of the Williamses' significant lead gift, will be a more natural environment for the mascots, with abundant vegetation and twice the outdoor roaming space. It will feature a 12-foot waterfall, den, climbing tree and other features.
In addition, the bears will be at viewers' eye level, unlike the current space. Educational information and vital statistics on the mascots and the breed also will be part of the display. The bears' caretakers -- professionally trained members of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce -- will continue to take the bears to community events, and Lady may make appearances on the sidelines at home games.
Many people contributed to the project by purchasing mascot pavers -- 16.5-inch square blocks that are engraved with the names of the donors and one of the former Baylor mascots.
"The bear is synonymous with the University, and people are interested in maintaining that tradition," Pleitz said. Donors who have purchased the pavers include former bear trainers, parents of students, alumni who met their spouses at the bears' facility and many who have fond memories of Baylor and its mascots, she said.
Although the building goal has been met, the University will continue to raise funds for an endowment for the bears' upkeep. Personalized pavers, bricks or benches still can be purchased. For more information, contact Pleitz at (254) 710-2561 or at Cathy_Pleitz@baylor.edu or visit www.Baylor.edu/bear