The #2 Athletic Facilities, At A Price

When Brian Rosenberg became President of Macalester in August 2003, he made it a point to increase fundraising and invest more in new campus facilities. With the construction of the Leonard Center in 2008, the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center in 2012 and the Joan Adams Mondale Hall of Studio Art in 2014, that vision came to fruition.

Last week, the Princeton Review named Macalester’s athletic facilities second in the country, behind the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but ahead of Division I powerhouses like the University of Alabama and University of Texas. The ranking was based on student surveys conducted over the past year at colleges across the country. The previous year, Macalester’s athletic facilities were ranked third. “It [the Leonard Center] is a shared site,” said Kim Chandler, Director of Athletics. “I think it’s something that we can all celebrate.”

Unlike the athletic facilities at some Division I programs which can be inaccessible for non-athletes, the Leonard Center and Macalester Stadium are open to students, faculty, staff and alums. Some community members also take advantage of the facilities for a fee. Last year, the Leonard Center averaged more than 2,000 visitors per day, according to Rosenberg.

“We continue to be attentive to the needs of our community,” Chandler said. “It’s pretty special the way the community uses the facilities and takes care of them.”

Chandler lauded Facilities Services for its upkeep of the Leonard Center and athletic fields. Over the weekend, she gave another collegiate athletic director a tour of the facilities. “They just couldn’t believe how clean the campus was, just meticulous,” Chandler said.

While the Princeton Review’s ranking demonstrates Macalester’s commitment to student well-being outside the classroom, the prestige didn’t come without a price. Construction of the Leonard Center cost $42 million, which was $3 million under budget. The investment has kept Macalester competitive with facilities at other MIAC schools including the University of St. Thomas, which unveiled its $52 million Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex in 2010. Meanwhile, St. John’s University has launched a $15-$18 million fundraising initiative to improve its athletic facilities.

For the Leonard Center, Macalester paid $26 million upfront from fundraising, but will continue to pay back the remaining debt for nearly 25 more years. The price tag combined with the debt repayment has left some students unsettled.

Peter Vang ’15 visits the Leonard Center about once a week, usually to walk on the treadmill, watch television or hang out. He considers the $42 million price tag “a bit extreme.”

“I guess for that kind of money we better have top-ranked facilities,” he said.

After the Leonard Center opened in August 2008, the college discovered that its cooling system couldn’t handle the extra square footage. The school purchased two chillers for nearly $13 million to account for the additions of the Leonard Center and Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center and to accommodate future buildings.

“Each of those facilities added about 50 percent more space,” Rosenberg said.

This past summer, the college committed another $531,000 in funding to resurface the outdoor track. “The track was at the end of its useful life,” Rosenberg said. “It needed to be replaced.”

The previous athletic complex dated back to the 1920s. According to Rosenberg, the recent focus on athletic facility improvements needs to be put in historical context. “I don’t think the athletic facilities have gotten a disproportionate amount of attention,” he said.

“The last two big projects were athletics and fine arts, so if you look at a five-year window it looks like we spent a lot of money on athletics, but if you look at a 25 to 30 year window, you realize athletics and fine arts went last.”

In the college’s most recent master plan, Rosenberg prioritized the creation of more social spaces on campus.

“I think with both the Janet Wallace Atrium and the Leonard Center we’ve done that,” he said. “I’m glad to see that the facilities are being used as heavily as they are.”