University looks to update campus athletic facilities

At a university recently ranked as a top-25 college in the country, Carnegie Mellon athletes must play in a gymnasium that its president calls “substandard by any measure.” Now, a new athletics director is looking to change that.

University President Jared Cohon made the aforementioned statement about Skibo Gymnasium last Tuesday in a statement to the campus community. The official communication discussed new campus building projects and explained the proposal to update the athletic facilities on campus.

While no new building is in the works yet, architectural firm Hastings and Chivetta has scoped out the campus over the last few weeks with a new structure in mind.

Having assumed her role in the University’s sports department last June, director of athletics and physical education Susan Bassett is spearheading this effort. According to Andrea Wesp, the assistant sports information director, Bassett envisions an upgrade to current facilities in the Department of Athletics, both “for daily use and competition.”

“This project isn’t intended to improve only the lives of varsity athletic members,” Wesp stated, “but to enhance the lives of all students, alumni, faculty, and staff as viewing areas and working space could be improved.”

In response to Bassett’s ideas, Cohon authorized hiring the architects from Hastings and Chivetta to conduct a “master planning study” about the athletic facilities, according to the president’s official communication.

As Bassett noted, a planning oversight committee has drafted “Athletics, Health and Wellness Vision Statement” that will be referenced during the proposal process. The committee includes such faculty as Bassett, Dean of Student Affairs Jennifer Church, and Associate Vice-Provost for Campus Design Ralph Horgan.

According to Horgan, the master planning effort has three main goals: assessing the status of the existing facilities; determining the demand for athletics, health, and wellness facilities; and developing a strategy for renovating or building new facilities to meet the current and future needs of the campus.

“We have no set answers on the type, size, or location of facilities that will result,” Horgan stated. “The purpose of the planning process is to solicit inputs from all corners of the campus community in order to try to figure out those answers.”

Through a donation by an alumnus, Hastings and Chivetta came to campus twice this semester, first on March 22–23 and again last week. During their first week, the architectural firm participated in a town-hall meeting regarding health and fitness on campus. Last week, Hastings and Chivetta engaged in workshops with students, faculty, and staff.

The architectural firm also conducted a university-wide survey of need for a new facility that was posted Saturday, March 18. By the following Tuesday at noon, over 1800 students and faculty had responded, according to Bassett.

Hastings and Chivetta are currently analyzing the results, which reached a total greater than 2000 before the survey closed in late March.

“The idea is to have a facility that will support all avenues of the athletic department,” Wesp said, citing such amenities as office space, team rooms and locker rooms for each sport, and space for each intramural (IM) sport. Currently, Wesp noted, IM sports share the same space as varsity teams, making scheduling complicated.

Wesp also cited the need for “a better gymnasium competitive with those in our athletic conference affiliation and nationwide.”

Built in 1924, Skibo Gymnasium is one the oldest college athletic facilities still in use, according to sports information director Mark Fisher. “Carnegie Mellon is academic-[focused] — and it should be,” he said. “But outside of that, we need to look into [a new gymnasium] to compete with peer universities.”

Though the process is still in infant stages of planning, Cohon has planned the financial backing for the outcome.

“We do not have the money to build a new athletic facility, nor do we have any plans for additional borrowing for this purpose,” he stated in his official communication. “My interactions with alumni ... indicate there are many who would like to give substantially for new athletic facilities. Our intention, therefore, is to use the results of this planning process to help us raise funds for such facilities.”