December 7, 2016

Washington University sets the bar for athletic facility expansion; Webster reaches tipping point

The idea of a gym expansion at Webster University was brought up at this year’s Delegates’ Agenda. It failed to receive the necessary votes needed to be presented in front of the school administration, but the issue of a lack of athletic facility space still remains.

Washington University is currently midway through construction on the expansion of the Gary M. Sumers Recreation Center. Construction on the 60,000 square ft. expansion began May 19, 2014, and is expected to be finished in August of 2016, according to bearsports.wustl.edu.

According to the Washington University athletics webpage, the expansion will include a suspended jogging track, a three-court gymnasium, two multipurpose rooms, a spinning studio, state-of-the-art fitness equipment, team locker rooms, team meeting rooms, offices and a sports medicine suite.

Both Josh Whitman, athletic director at Washington University, and Scott Kilgallon, athletic director at Webster University, agreed that each school experiences the issue of a “landlocked” campus.

“We have a very defined footprint,” Whitman said. “I applaud our administration because they have looked for opportunities to expand when they can through purchase of real estate.”

Whitman said that both Washington University and University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (his previous institution) are “landlocked” and believed it was a willingness to engage with colleagues to put all ideas on the table to problem-solve the situation.

The expansion is to take the design as the rest of the buildings on campus.

“[The building] has kind of a textual theme. There are certain qualities that all the buildings exhibit,” Whitman said.

Student body benefit

The Gary M. Sumers Recreation Center is already a building on the Washington University campus that is being expanded. Whitman said they wanted to honor the history of the structure, but also modernize the facilities and make them more meaningful for today’s student body.

The entire recreational center is planned to be used for both the university athletic program and the student body. Whitman estimated that around 75 percent of the usage will be by the student body.

“The driver for [the expansion] was for the recreational component for our student body,” Whitman said. “Our university has invested a lot of time and energy and resources into enhancing the student life experience.”

To go along with the updates for the residence halls, the dining services and the university’s new student center, Whitman said one of the missing components was a viable fitness center.

Currently, the athletics programs at Washington University share the workout facilities with the student body, much like Webster University. Whitman says that the expanded area would most likely transition into the student body area, while the current facilities would be used solely by the athletic program.

“There have been a lot of academic studies that show a correlation between the success of an athletic program and the perception of the quality of the university,” Whitman said. “We very much consider our athletics to be the front porch to a university. We think it allows us to tell a good story in terms of the types of students we have, the type of culture that we’re trying to create.”

Athletic benefits

Whitman said he hopes the improvements with the fitness center will also help recruitment for the athletic teams.

“I hope it’s a huge advantage in recruiting,” Whitman said. “I think that it shows a level of support from the university for our athletic program. It excites our current student athletes who are, most of the time, our best recruiters… Anything that gets them excited ultimately gets passed down to the recruits.”

Whitman insists that the main goal of the expansion was for more the student body than for athletics. He said he believes the 18-23 year old age range, especially on a college campus, is a time for students to make bad dietary decisions. With things like not enough sleep, eating unhealthy foods and the consumption of too much alcohol, Whitman hopes that the fitness center would help create a better alternative and a healthier environment on campus.

The need for expansion

In 2009, Webster University’s athletic program had 192 student athletes. Last year, that number grew to 281, and there are currently over 300 student athletes this year.

Kilgallon said he believes the university has reached the tipping point where discussions need to be started on the idea of an expansion.

“We are simply over capacitated in [the UC gym],” Kilgallon said. “You can walk through here and see [strength and conditioning] coach Saitz working people out in the hallway.”

One of the struggles the athletic program has with the lack of space is that the gymnasium is multipurpose. It is used for athletic events, but it is also used for admission events, such as banquets.

Kilgallon does not want more facilities just for the student athletes, but the students in general. He notes that intramural athletics are big on campus and the students that are not in school athletics need a place to go workout.

“It’s just as important to have facilities for students that are not in organized intercollegiate sports,” Kilgallon said. “It would be nice for someone to be able to go shoot hoops when they want or have a larger weight room and those types of things.”

Currently, the university rents off-campus facilities for most of its athletics uses. The soccer park and the home baseball field for the Gorloks have been contractually agreed upon for use by Webster University.

Facilities beginning to grow

The school has agreed to a contract with the St. Louis Sports Center, located just off Heege Road on Langley Avenue in Affton, to allow the softball and baseball teams to use their building for indoor workouts.

Webster University is close to reaching a deal with an organization for usage of a track, according to Kilgallon. He said the growth of the team, almost 60 student athletes, has made a pressing need for their own facilities.

The NCAA released a publication stating that 67 percent of student athletes would not attend a college without the recruiting of the coaches. Webster University actually exceeds this number. Currently, 90 percent of the student athletes at the university were recruited by the coaches.

Kilgallon said that during the recruiting process, students decide on where they are going to play five minutes after seeing the facilities.

“When we are recruiting, we are typically competing against two or three other schools,” Kilgallon said. “[Facilities] are a hugely important component of the recruiting process… It is so critical.”

Financial standstills

Financially, Kilgallon said the budget is tight and to compare an expansion to Washington University’s is difficult because of the large amount of donations Washington University received. He does agree that the fundamentals are all the same, though.

“[The administration] recognizes they need to keep upgrading to compete with who they play against,” Kilgallon said.

The Webster athletic department is optimistic that the issue of lack of space will be solved, if not through expansion, with new off-campus facilities.

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