Ground broken for new athletic facility, alumni grove

Parking Lot 8 was not a great place to be last Wednesday. It was freezing cold and the rain was coming down in diagonal sheets on the blacktop and cars.

Later this year, however, Lot 8 will be a hot spot on campus. By then, it will no longer be a sea of asphalt. Instead, it will be part of a state-of-the-art facility including a softball field, soccer field and alumni grove.

Despite the bad weather, the College held an upbeat ground breaking ceremony to begin construction of the new sports complexes and alumni grove.

Many notable members of the campus community took part in the ceremony, including College President R. Barbara Gitenstein, Chief Academic Officer and Provost Stephen Briggs and Executive Director of Student Development and Programs Kevin McHugh.

Alumni Association president Greg Bellotti, head softball coach Sally Miller, head women’s soccer coach Joe Russo, and head men’s soccer coach George Nazario, also participated in the event.

The ceremony lasted just 10 minutes, with Gitenstein, McHugh and Bellotti delivering speeches before the ground breaking participants posed with their shovels. Gitenstein thanked the alumni, many of whom were former athletes, for their dedication to the project.

McHugh discussed the many benefits the facility will provide and said the project is “another reaffirmation of the College’s support for the athletic program.”

Bellotti said he hopes the alumni grove will become a “focal point” on campus for students and alumni.

The new facilities will be built where Lots 6, 7 and 8 now stand. Even with the elimination of these parking lots, there is still a net gain in parking due to last year’s addition of the Lot 6 parking deck.

The softball field will feature handicap-accessible grandstand spectator seating, fenced bullpens, a batting cage and a press box. There will also be a concession stand that will be utilized for games on both the softball and soccer fields.

After losing Lions’ Park, its home on campus two years ago, the softball team has had to play on Armstrong Field for the past two years. The facility is about a mile off campus and minimizes the team’s home field advantage.

“They’ve practically been a road team,” McHugh said.

The entire softball team showed their support for their future home by braving the elements and attending the ceremony. Miller said she is excited that her team will be able to play in a facility located on campus.

“For two years we’ve been up in the air,” she said. “It’s great to have a facility back.”

With the construction of the new soccer field, the College’s men’s and women’s soccer teams will play on a “state-of-the-art surface,” according to McHugh. In addition to spectator seating, a scoreboard and a press box, the field will be covered with a new generation infill type synthetic surface. The field surface was requested by the athletic department in conjunction with the Department of Campus Planning and Construction.

“Other than grass it’s the best surface,” Russo said. Nazario said the surface is particularly valuable because it holds up well against the weather in the late fall months.

The men’s soccer program has used Lions’ Stadium for its home games since 1984, while the women’s soccer team has used the stadium since 1990, when women’s soccer became a varsity sport at the College.

The new facilities will be NCAA compliant, meaning that the College will be eligible to host conference and NCAA Division III championships.

Nazario said he believes that the ability to play on such a great field, along with the opportunity to host NCAA events, will be an invaluable to his team when trying to bring in prospective athletes.

“In terms of recruiting purposes, it’s very attractive,” he said.

Bellotti described the alumni grove as “an area which will be a focal point and close to the heartbeat of campus.” The park-like area will feature a reflecting pond, walkways, landscaping and an area with 4,000 engravable bricks that alumni and other members of the College community can purchase.

Bellotti said he hopes the grove will be utilized for gatherings, engagements, wedding pictures and meditation. He also said the area will be in close proximity to where people can tailgate before games on the adjacent fields.

“We want to engage students,” he said. “We want students to come over and meet the alumni.”

In terms of the athletic facilities, McHugh said he feels the door for students who are interested in all levels of athletics is opening wider.

“It addresses a number of needs,” he said. “It also gives us flexibility in terms of intramural and club sports programs.” McHugh said that since the stadium will no longer host as many varsity games and practices, students participating in intramural and club sports will have more frequent access to the turf.

According to Lynda Rothermel, project architect in the office of Campus Planning and Construction, the project budget does not provide for the purchase and installation of lighting for the fields.

However, the underground conduit for the lighting will be installed as part of this project, so that lights can later be installed without having to dig up the fields.

The general contractor for the project is Hunt Construction, which also heads construction of the new library.

The College has set the target date of completion for this November, meaning the soccer teams will be able to utilize their new home for part of the 2005-2006 seasons.

Since softball plays in the spring, the field should be ready for the team’s 2006 home opener.