The official groundbreaking ceremony for the Austin E. Knowlton Athletics Complex will take place this Saturday. The $8 million donation for the new facility marks the biggest donation the school has ever received for athletics.
The ceremony will take place before the football team takes on the Hiram College Terriers; this will be the last athletic contest to take place in Savage Stadium.
“Many trustees will be in town, there will be a tailgate and a special post game bonfire on the field,” said Director of Athletics Natalie Winkelfoos. “Many student athletes will be involved and there will be giveaways and vintage foam fingers.”
The large donation is much appreciated. “Knowlton has been a generous benefactor to The Ohio State University, and the Knowlton Foundation has given us a significant amount of money for scholarships,” said President Marvin Krislov. “We are very anxious to begin breaking ground on the North[side] Complex.”
In comparison to other colleges in our athletic conference, such as Kenyon College and Denison University, our athletic facility pales. The Jesse E. Philips gym was built in 1971, before Title IX, as a men’s only facility. Many believe that because of this, the athletic center no longer supports the athletic needs of the school and community.
“The building is ugly and out of date,” said Winkelfoos. “We are trying to attract the best and brightest students and we have high school students coming from better facilities. We are just so far behind in the race of facilities that we are doing ourselves and the community a disservice.”
Senior Associate Director of Athletics Creg Jantz also saw the new facility as an opportunity for Oberlin to compete in admissions with other schools in its athletic conference. “Prospective students will go home and say, ‘I was just at a football game at Oberlin College, and their new facilities are unbelievable.’ After leaving Denison University and Kenyon College, people are excited. Now they will get excited after leaving Oberlin College,” said Jantz.
Walking around the athletic complex, one sees a state-of-the-art soccer field surrounded by an aging football field, a cardio center located in a hallway, insufficient space to hold recreational classes and lots of brick. In a society where health and wellness is a major topic of conversation, many believe that Oberlin is falling behind.
But all that is going to change, according to Winkelfoos. “This is a very rigorous campus. If you’re not taking care of your body, you’re not taking care of your mind. I don’t think that our building is very welcoming for the non-varsity athlete; a new health and wellness center will change this,” she said.
Winkelfoos believes the new emphasis on health and wellness will help the Oberlin community grow in ways outside its athletics.
“This will only make Oberlin that much stronger. We are a really great school. Imagine how powerful we can be if everyone is on top of their game physically, mentally and emotionally,” said Winkelfoos.
The new complex will feature a multipurpose field with artificial turf and lights, a state-of-the-art press box and new guard stands for home and visiting fans. The facility will also include new home and visitor locker rooms, as well as meeting and social spaces for the campus community to host events. The second phase of construction is the South Complex, which will include a renovated pool and health and wellness center that will include a fitness center, a multipurpose room, a personal training room, a wellness classroom, a demo kitchen, a café and a lounge.
“We are really excited that we have secured funds for the first phase,” said Jantz.
“The new North Complex will be very beneficial for our varsity athletes and our community at large,” said Krislov. “I imagine that some of our club and intramural sports will use it as well. It is just huge to have a turf field because I think we are the last school in our conference with a grass football field. It becomes a big challenge in the winter. The new field is a great opportunity to get more use out of our field and allow us to do things including community concerts and activities.”
Along with the donation from the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation, the Athletics Department has been working hard to secure donations from other sources. Some donors have specified where they want their donations to go directly, while others have put it in the hands of the department.
Two concerns for many students are in regard to mental health and a South Campus gym. When asked, Winkelfoos was certain theses concerns would be addressed.
“Mental health has always been a part of our plan. We have carved out space within the new health and wellness center for offices for the director of wellness, the counseling center… to ensure that we are keeping the mental aspect in the forefront of our minds.”
Winkelfoos also mentioned that there are plans underway for South Campus. Though the gym was originally intended to be completed by Thanksgiving, the process has been slower than expected. “There are always hiccups when you start digging into old space. We are going to do it, and we are going to do it right,” she said.
The Athletics department is abuzz with excitement over the new plans. “The new facility will give Oberlin a sense of pride,” said Jantz.