EVANSTON, Ill. — Last Saturday, when the nation’s focus returned to college football for the third week of the new season, Northwestern University announced its board of trustees’ recent approval of plans to build a major athletic complex and adjoining parking structure. The estimated $220 million project will also include a renovation of the existing Dellora A. and Lester J. Norris Aquatics Center and Henry Crown Sports Pavilion.
The project is partially a response to the university’s Framework Plan, adopted in 2009, which called for improved recreational and athletic facilities on the main campus. The plan also called for a general shift, moving parking facilities to the edges of campus, and replacing it with green space when possible. The new parking structure will help to replace two parking lots near the middle of campus, which are currently being replaced by two acres of green space.
A new 2,500-seat indoor multipurpose facility will be used for hosting major events, like the school’s annual new student convocation, as well as competitive athletic events and team practices. The space will also be usable for club sports and intramural teams. The building will feature new locker rooms, fitness and weight training facilities, office and meeting room space, and sports medicine amenities.
Renovations to the aquatics center and sports pavilion will provide new practice and competition venues for varsity sports, new locker rooms, a new diving well next to the existing swimming pool, and spaces for yoga and various exercise classes.
A 1,200-car parking garage will take the place of an existing surface parking lot near the sports and aquatics center. This structure will also contain fitness studios, weight rooms, and other recreational facilities.
“This new plan will provide greatly enhanced recreational facilities for all of our students, increased parking at the north end of campus and improved key areas for our athletic programs,” said Northwestern University president Morton Schapiro. “This will be a benefit to many members of the Northwestern community.”
Schapiro added that the felt trustees embraced the plans because the new facilities would be designed to be useful for many purposes, creating benefits for the average student, not just varsity athletes competing at the highest level. He also said the timetable for construction would be determined by funding, stressing that this project would be “a number one priority” in terms of fundraising efforts at the university in the immediate future.
The project will return the football program to the main campus, with game day being the only time players travel to the university’s football stadium at Ryan Field. Practices and training sessions are currently held at a field near the stadium, which is approximately one mile away from campus.
Jim Phillips, Northwestern's director of athletics and recreation, felt the new facilities would aid the recruiting process and bring athletes closer to the rest of the student culture at the university. “The improvements will provide better integration of our student athletes with other students on our main campus, reducing the divide that manifests when there are separate facilities for student athletes, as occurs at many other institutions.”
Northwestern’s football program has risen out of relative anonymity in recent years to attend four bowl games in a seven-year stretch. The team began its first sports marketing campaign in 2010, branding itself as “Chicago’s Big-10Team,” added Under Armour as a sponsor in 2011 and has begun this season with a bang, jumping out to a 3-0 record and becoming one of only 31 teams who remain undefeated at this point in the season.
“Football is the engine that drives this department,” Phillips said. “It’s the emotional engine. It’s the financial engine. We have to invest not only in all our sports, but especially in football. This will allow the football program to be in the heart of campus.”