Northern Arizona University is embarking on an impressive plan to make over its athletics facilities while transforming the student experience and sports culture on campus.
A task force including students, faculty, staff and community members has recommended a multiyear plan that calls for a major renovation of the Walkup Skydome and construction of a multiuse arena for basketball, concerts and other community activities.
It also recommends new facilities for women’s soccer, women’s golf, volleyball and men’s and women’s tennis as well as beefed-up facilities for swimming and track and field.
“If we want to remain competitive—or even remain in intercollegiate athletics—we have to make improvements to our facilities,” said NAU President John Haeger.
The new facilities would comprise Lumberjack Village and Skydome Village, two planned areas that would create distinct athletics areas, enhance student life and make additional donor opportunities available.
“Athletics have long been an important part of university life and a window to the community, but they also provide an important economic engine for universities and their communities,” said Mason Gerety, dean of The W.A. Franke College of Business and chair of the task force.
Haeger and Gerety have said that in order for the university remain in compliance with federal Title IX requirements that mandate equal facilities and scholarships for women’s athletics, immediate upgrades are necessary.
The project, with an estimated cost of about $162 million, is planned for four phases spread over at least seven years.
The initial phase, which could begin as early as this spring, will address critical fire and life safety issues in the Skydome, new turf for the dome, a new floor for Rolle Activity Center, new locker rooms for Rolle and Wall Aquatic Center, locker rooms for soccer, tennis and track and field, and a new throwing area for track and field.
Phase II, envisioned for 2009 and 2010, includes the 6,500-seat community arena, an overhaul of Lumberjack Stadium, and further renovations to the aquatic center.
“The arena may be the most important part of all the projects,” Gerety said. “Not only would it provide a first-class place to play basketball, it would also offer an area for big-name concerts and other events, which would really bring in the community.”
An important aspect of Phase II depends on the Big Sky Conference’s expected decision to include women’s softball as a championship sport. If that happens, NAU plans to construct a softball facility, though the location is undetermined.
The dome renovation would continue in Phase III as about 5,000 seats would be removed to upgrade concessions stands and add club seating. Athletics offices and the Hall of Fame would move to a new addition on the south side of the dome. Phase III is planned to begin in 2011.
Phase IV would overlap with Phase III in 2012 and complete Skydome and aquatic center renovations and add amenities to Lumberjack Stadium.
“This is a blueprint for what we would love to do, but many important issues arose as we looked at NAU’s athletics facilities, including safety issues in the Skydome and Title IX considerations,” Gerety said. “This plan will address those issues while enhancing the overall university and community amenities.”
The task force also considered funding for all the projects, suggesting a mix of state and university funding, taxing authority and donor opportunities, including naming rights.
Haeger formed the task force in August and plans to submit the plans to the Arizona Board of Regents and members of the Arizona Legislature.
“We cannot stop planning during difficult budget times,” Haeger said. “This is a master plan that addresses immediate needs of our women athletes. It also calls for state-of-the-art facilities that will be a boon for students, student-athletes and members of our community.”
The overall athletics plan is enhanced by the recently approved student health and wellness fee that will begin in the fall and will add recreational fields and opportunities to the general student population.
Adding student recreational space allows athletics teams to have more access to current and proposed facilities for practice and other activities.
“This is a plan to construct athletics facilities that will serve the campus and community for the next 40 years,” Gerety said. “We don’t have to do everything on our list, but we have to do some things.”
Read the executive summary online.