Wang: Lakefront athletics complex raises excitement and concerns

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Wang: Lakefront athletics complex raises excitement and concerns

Colin Wang, Columnist

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On Friday, Northwestern officials announced the groundbreaking ceremony for the new lakefront athletic complex will take place at 1 p.m. on Nov. 13. The new complex, which was originally approved back in 2012, will include the Ryan Fieldhouse and the Walter Athletics Center. In addition to the new facilities, there are also plans to renovate the Norris Aquatics Center and the three basketball courts in the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion.

The new athletic complex will obviously be useful for the athletic department, bringing new workout and practice facilities closer to student-athletes on campus and consolidating health, academic and athletic resources. The state-of-the-art facility will also undoubtedly be a useful recruiting tool to draw elite high school athletes and maintain NU’s culture of athletic success.

This new construction project also raises some concerns. First, how will the finished complex impact members of the NU community who are not athletes or otherwise involved with the athletic department? In his press conference, Athletic Director Jim Phillips emphasized the impact this on-campus athletic facility will have on the general student body, including being the site of future Dance Marathon events. Obviously, more detailed plans will be released throughout construction, but as a non-athlete, I’m glad to hear the athletic department will reserve space in the new facility for club and intramural sports. However, I have not heard how space will be distributed.

The second, more pressing concern is the availability of the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion and the Norris Aquatics Center during renovation. Both the Crown Sports Pavilion and the Aquatics Center are patronized by hundreds of students, faculty and Evanston residents each day. After the renovations begin, will access to facilities, especially the basketball court, be as available as it has been previously?

I worry that the renovation will have the same consequence as the renovation of the soccer/lacrosse field. During its renovation, the soccer/lacrosse field is completely unavailable. Students who use the fields recreationally, especially those looking to play soccer, have been forced to find a new place to play. Many have switched to using Long Field or Deering Meadow, but both locations lack the field quality of the old soccer/lacrosse field. I’m concerned that if renovations render the Crown Sports Pavilion and the Aquatics Center unavailable, patrons will have a hard time finding alternatives because there are few basketball courts and no other pool on campus.

NU has a history of transforming facilities to favor varsity athletes at the expense of other patrons. Back in September, the athletic department installed new boxing equipment in the weight room of Patten Gym at the request of the women’s lacrosse team. To make room for the boxing equipment, older weightlifting equipment was thrown out. This move drew criticism from students and faculty who frequent Patten for weight training. Political science Prof. William Reno said while NU is right to support its athletic teams by providing training spaces, it has come at the expense of recreational users like himself.

The construction of the new athletic complex has been highly anticipated by the athletic department and the school at large. The past renovations of the Crown Sports Pavilion and the Aquatics Center created facilities that have become integral parts of campus and daily life for the many people who use them. As construction begins on more renovations and the new complex, I hope the administration has a plan in place to make sure casual swimmers and basketball players have alternatives.

Colin Wang is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be contacted at colinwang2018@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

This column was updated at 8:27 p.m. 

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