The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern breaks ground on athletic facility in ceremony disrupted by protest

Ben Pope, Reporter

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University President Morton Schapiro and athletic director Jim Phillips broke ground on a new $260 million athletic facility Friday, in a ceremony disrupted by students protesting institutional racism.

The event, which included speeches from Phillips, Schapiro, football coach Pat Fitzgerald and several donors, was interrupted early on by the protest. The students broke through curtains surrounding the room, encircled the seating area and chanted for demands such as a full stop to the renovations planned to be made at the Black House, a U.S.-centric diversity requirement for all majors and the creation of a resource center and technology hub tailored to black students for about 25 minutes.

“Part of me felt a certain pride,” Schapiro said. “That our students had the guts and the organizational ability to march here from a rally they were having that was about, to some extent this campus, but to a greater extent about all the other campuses today where this is happening, and under real risk, came here and confronted us that way.”

After the students left, the speeches continued and several of the most influential figures ceremoniously shoveled soil from a tub inside the building to commemorate the official groundbreaking of the construction.

Construction on the lakefront athletics facility will begin soon, north of Henry Crown Sports Pavilion. The complex will include the Ryan Fieldhouse and the Walter Athletics Center.

Ryan Fieldhouse, named in honor of a donation from Patrick and Shirley Ryan (Kellogg ’59 and Weinberg ’61, respectively), will house a large indoor practice field as well as strength and conditioning rooms and sports medicine offices. It will have the capacity to host future non-athletic events such as convocations and Dance Marathon.

Walter Athletics Center will become the epicenter of Northwestern football’s operational side, including coach offices, meeting rooms, a nutrition center, academic support resources and football-specific strength and conditioning rooms. It will be named in honor of Mark and Kimbra Walter (Law ‘85 and Weinberg ‘85, respectively).

The facility will replace the team’s current practice center at Trienens Hall, which is located roughly a mile off-campus next to Ryan Field and was last upgraded in 1997.

Phillips said he hopes the new buildings will allow football players and other student-athletes to better assimilate into the student body as a whole.

“It’s about providing (the football team) with the necessary resources to compete nationally,” he told The Daily. “What I love most about it is … integrating (the football players) into campus. For them to walk the same sidewalks and bike paths and facilities as the student population, I think that’ll be a wonderful thing.”

Phillips told the crowd of about 1,000 donors, alumni, student-athletes and other observers gathered Wednesday afternoon at Crown Sports Pavilion that the new facility will boast “three points of distinction”: a spectacular location, spaces for all students to engage in recreational activities and a better integrated athletics-academics environment that breaks the national trend of “isolation” in college football.

Fitzgerald said the new project is “an absolute game-changer” for his program.

NU has ranked in the lower half of the Big Ten in recruiting every year since Fitzgerald took over in 2006, according to 247Sports’ evaluations, and ESPN ranked the university’s football facilities the conference’s worst in a 2012 article.

“We recruit young men and women that are … steadfast in their belief that they can have it all, in the appropriate way,” Fitzgerald said. “Now we offer state-of-the-art facilities to holistically develop student-athletes on and off the field.”

Schapiro focused on the additional underappreciated benefits that the facility will provide to NU.

“We’ve been frustrated not to have venues large enough (to host major events),” he told The Daily following the event, noting the inadequacy of Cahn Auditorium to house occasions such as President Obama’s speech at NU last year. “Now we have a fieldhouse that we can set up for thousands. I really want it to affect everyone — the faculty, the staff,… clubs and intramural athletes, the recreational department — and I’m hoping that it will.”

Twitter: @benpope111