Whalen Gymnasium sits on the north side of the Fort Lewis College campus and has done so since it was built in 1971.
Whalen has been a staple on the historic campus since its construction, hosting graduations, assemblies, sporting events and more.
However, it is time for “out with the old, and in with the new” at FLC. Whalen, Skyhawk Hall – which is where all of the exercise science classes and offices are – and Ray Dennison Memorial field all need to be intensely renovated.
The facilities FLC provides for its athletes are inadequate and insufficient for the level of competitive excellence the school expects, one official in the athletic department said recently. Out of all of the schools in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, FLC has the most out-of-date and deficient facilities.
FLC has 13 varsity sports, five for men and eight for women. For these teams to achieve greatness and compete at the highest levels in Division II athletics, these 13 teams need to be given better tools so they can succeed.
For example, the weight room has 12 squat racks and is extraordinarily small to house some of the larger sports teams like football, said junior Laine Waters, an FLC volleyball player.
“The athletic training room needs to be remodeled,” she said. “I’ve seen smaller in our conference, but also larger ones in community colleges. We could use more tables, machines like stem and ultrasound, and ice baths.”
It doesn’t matter how good the coaches or the athletic training staff are, the perception put out by the FLC facilities is that the school doesn’t care much about athletics. That is bad for recruiting.
“The coaches, the athletic training staff and the people here are great,” said senior Caleb Barham, a football player. “Improving the ATR, the field and stuff like that would really help recruiting and do a lot for FLC to try and jump into the status of the (Colorado State) Pueblos and (Colorado School of) Mines of the world.”
FLC officials seem to know that their facilities are subpar; that is why a little over a year ago, the FLC Board of Trustees made improvements the No. 1 priority on their capital projects list. They approved a multiphase, $57.5 million project that will expand Whalen from just 47,000 square feet to over 120,000.
This project would include renovations to Whalen and Skyhawk Hall, with a separate project planned for the football field and track.
However, even though this project is No. 1 for FLC, that doesn’t mean it is a priority for the state of Colorado, which provides around 90 percent of the funding for these kinds of projects.
In an interview I conducted with Associate Vice President of Finance and Administration Michelle Peterson last semester, she said the Berndt Hall remodel waited over 10 years for state approval, and Sitter Family Hall, the new geosciences, physics and engineering building took about five.
In 20 years, the college has seen three bids to renovate Whalen get shot down and lowered on the list of importance by the state. Although it may take a while to get approval from the state, one FLC athletics office official told me the project has been climbing up the ladder faster than anticipated.
The point is, FLC is an institution that prides itself on culture, diversity and providing a great atmosphere and education to its students. Improved athletics and facilities, as a whole, can enhance this experience.
FLC’s enrollment dropped by 6.6 percent from a year ago, public affairs official Mitch Davis said in an email to the student body. Renovations to this aspect of the school could greatly help in recruiting new prospective students and future athletes.
The best thing that the school and the state can do is get this renovation pushed through and constructed. Taking decades for approval and fundraising does little to benefit the college, its athletes or the rest of its incredible student body.
Matthew Roy is a student at Fort Lewis College and sports editor of the FLC newspaper, The Independent. “Above the Rim” is a new column featuring FLC student writers that will appear the fourth Monday of the month.