Macalester welcomes Leonard Center with open arms

By Daniel Kerwin

What’s the saying from Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come?” In the case of last Thursday, when the Leonard Center hosted its official opening ceremony, it was more like “if you make them wait in a cramped church building for a year and a half while you build it, they’ll be bursting through the doors to get in when it’s completed.” “Our biggest concern was people wouldn’t come, but when they started showing up early our fears were diminished,” said Volleyball Head Coach Stephanie Schleuder, who was on the committee that planned the Campus Opening event. “I think it was a great turnout by faculty and staff too, that was pretty pleasing. Our goal was to get as many people as possible to come through the facility. We got about 1,300, which is great.”

It was a long wait, and a lot of us spent way more time inside a church building than we had done for our entire lives, but Thursday served to reassure the entire campus community that Macalester finally has its own athletic facility, and a pretty darn good one at that.

Just as no expense was spared in the construction of the building itself, it seemed no expense was spared in the celebration. At the entrance there were free small backpacks on a first come first serve basis, free t-shirts, even free 512 MB flash drives if you found yourself in the fitness center. You could even try your hand at little challenges put on by various varsity teams to win more free stuff. Still, according to Vice President of Student Affairs Laurie Hamre, the giveaways only cost the college approximately $7 per person who attended the event.

The events emphasized the wide variety of sports that will be housed in the new center, ranging from a water polo exhibition in the pool, to a volleyball challenge in the gymnasium, to a putting challenge on the putting green in the corner of the fieldhouse. The baseball and tennis teams also showcased how the fieldhouse will be used for their respective sports.

As well as the heavy number of people wandering through the building during the opening, the diversity of visitors was also encouraging.

“We wanted it to be a celebration, something that would be fun and attract all sorts of people who hadn’t been involved with the athletic facility to show them this is a campus gathering spot, not just an athletic facility,” Schleuder said.

Although Thursday was the official opening of the Leonard Center, the building had been in limited use since August 11th. Despite some final touchups that need to be made such as waiting for new lockers to arrive for the locker rooms and for live television in the fitness center, the facility is now fully operational.

“We’ve worked at a very fast pace, prior to August 11th and trying to get open for the 11th, and certainly to welcome back students for today on the 23rd,” Athletic Director Kim Chandler said. “It’s taken a lot of folks across the campus community to help us get that done. It’s been just a tremendous effort and I think a real committed celebration in terms of what this building will mean for our campus.”

Probably the best part about the new facility, besides the fact that it exists in the first place, is that there have been various touches here and there to make it feel like home. Be it the 127 flags in the field house made up of photo-mosaics relating to Macalester, or the huge banners on display in the upstairs atrium. However, it’s a shame that users are restricted to coming into the building through only the bottom floor Shaw Field entrance, limiting the effect of the atrium’s atmosphere.

“I think when you look at the photos, to me it speaks to the traditions and history and future of Macalester,” Chandler said. “I think the pictures have really brought this place alive, because it’s now about the people and not just being about a building.”

Since the opening, there have already been times when spaces such as the cardio training side of the fitness center have operated at close to full capacity. The challenge now will be to see if the same sort of interest in the facility will be sustained on into October, November and beyond.

“You build this massive space and all of a sudden because of the way it’s been done, I know somebody’s already said ‘is it too small?’ but obviously it’s just going to take a chance for people to get moved in and figure out how things are going to,” Chandler said.

With the celebration over and the facility working in full swing, the campus needs only to focus on enjoying all the intricacies it possesses, at least until another new center is needed, which hopefully won’t be for a very long time.

“The vision our administration had in making this a campus gathering place has really been fulfilled,” Schleuder said. “It’s a tribute to their foresight we have such a beautiful place, and functional place too. It works for everything we want to happen here.