Mercyhurst College’s varsity athletes will soon have a new place to pump iron.
College administrators recently approved the construction of a $250,000 weight lifting wing to be connected to the Ice Center’s east wall. The 2,970-square-foot facility will be restricted for athletes’ use only.
Work on the structure began quickly and without notice to students, faculty and staff during the week of Oct. 4.
But the project’s realization came slowly.
“About three years ago,” says Provost Dr. James Adovasio, “a strength and conditioning coach visited from Hockey Canada to speak about training considerations for our world class hockey players.”
The Hockey Canada official suggested to women’s hockey coach Michael Sisti that a weight training facility––similar to the one being built on the south end of campus––should exist at Mercyhurst.
“Mike approached (President Dr.) Tom Gamble and I about it on several occasions, and this year it proved to be feasible,” Adovasio said.
The $250,000 project is funded through the college’s capital budget, which includes all sources of revenue such as charitable gifts, grants and student tuition.
The structural price tag does not include the actual equipment to be housed within the 66’x45′ foot wing. Owen McCormick, owner of Joseph McCormick Construction Company, Inc., donated $117,000 worth of equipment, which has not yet been delivered to campus. McCormick has served on the college’s Board of Trustees since 2002, and the facility will bear his family’s name.
Beyond Hockey Canada’s recommendation, Mercyhurst has had a demand for a varsity-only weight training center for quite some time, according to Director of Athletics Joe Kimball.
“This was in the works before I got here (July 2009),” he said. “When you have 565 athletes on campus who need to weight train, they could dominate the Rec Center almost every day.”
While Recreation Center staff do not tally student attendance, nor account for how often varsity athletes visit, the weight and fitness areas are crunched during peak hours or when teams go for group training.
“You’ve seen what happens when they all roll in,” Adovasio said, “especially when there’s 20 or so at the same time.”
But the facility will serve another need for all sports programs.
Kimball spoke of the gap he sees between schools that offer mostly Division I athletics and programs like Mercyhurst’s, which offers 24 varsity sports, but only hockey at the Division I level.
Universities that fund large Division I programs in football, basketball, hockey and other major sports furnish more advantages to student athletes, lending coaches in every sport a significant arrow in their quiver during recruiting battles.
In particular, Kimball noted lavish facilities at the University of Minnesota while he was there for the 2010 NCAA Frozen Four, where Mercyhurst lost to Cornell University in the semifinals.
“We’re not Minnesota. We’re not Wisconsin. We’re not those schools,” Kimball said. “But things we can do to close the gap a little bit is what we want to focus on.”
Adovasio, who also traveled to Minneapolis in March for the tournament, agreed.
“When you can point out to a potential recruit and their parents that you have invested in a dedicated facility…it goes a long way to show the college is invested in something like that,” he said.
The provost also spoke of fulfilling obligations to current athletes.
“They’ve chosen to come here because they think this is the best place to succeed, both academically and athletically,” he said. “We have a responsibility to make sure that’s the case.”
Adovasio addressed student concerns about general tuition dollars being appropriated to a project which will directly benefit less than 20 percent of the student body.
“Theoretically, there’s some (tuition) here and there,” he said. “You could say that when you go outside and see maintenance cutting the grass, part of your tuition paid for the lawnmower.
“In that sense, yes, just like everything else we build, some of your tuition money is there. All capital investments represent pieces of all the revenue sources.”
Other than McCormick, no donors have yet come forward to help defray costs of building the weight room.
The construction phase has already added another chapter to Mercyhurst’s aged parking problem.
Tullio Field’s nearest parking lot is currently short approximately 10 spaces, though most will be restored after the project’s completion.
“We’re landlocked,” Kimball said. “As everybody knows, we have a parking issue.”
But an initial miscommunication also hampered campus transit, as crews immediately cordoned off the narrow road between Baldwin Hall and the Ice Center’s entrance when construction began.
Terry Logan, an employee with StruXures, LLC, the architectural firm, cited safety concerns as the reason to block traffic.
“All of a sudden, there’s this fence going up,” Kimball said. “I went up and found out, and we got the word out to Police and Safety.”
Chief of Police and Safety Robert Kuhn says he likewise found out late about the project, past the point when a campus e-mail notification would have been useful.
“But even if you publicize it,” Kimball said, “someone’s going to not read the e-mail and not know. No matter what you do.”
Both Kimball and Kuhn are now concerned about parking implications for the remaining four home football games, beginning Saturday with perennial Division II power California (Pa.).
“Where do we put these people?” Kimball asked rhetorically. “Some people don’t come to games because there’s not a place to park. I don’t know what they’ll do to address that.”
Kuhn mentioned the possibility of routing fans to the lot behind the Mercyhurst Athletic Center and said additional police will be present Saturday to help alleviate any traffic woes.
Construction manager Ernie Crowther expects construction to be completed by Christmas.