It towers into the sky like a building in the Arab city of Dubai, and it is sitting right here on this campus.
In 2009, Ithaca College launched a massive construction campaign to build the new Athletic and Events Center on the west end of campus. The enormous facility, which will have its grand opening in October, includes a 130,000 square foot field house as well as a pool, outdoor tennis courts and an outdoor stadium.
The main building, which has a field house and track, also includes a strength training facility and an athletic training facility. An outdoor plaza, a press box, team rooms and locker rooms, as well as athletic offices ,are all included in the facility. The indoor pool has an adjustable floor that allows the floor to come up to the surface as well as sink as deep as 12 feet. This is said to be an aid for people who need to use the pool for rehabilitation.
This wasn’t exactly a minor project. In fact, according to the campus website, the college received funding from over 2,800 donors to build the facility. President Tom Rochon called the project a “20-year dream” of Ithaca College.
On the surface, the state-of-the-art facility sounds and looks magnificent. Now that it is finally complete, it has become especially useful for student-athletes like Chris Lotsbom, a junior on the track and field team who is thrilled that the team finally has a place to call home after years of having to use Cornell’s track.
“Doing the workouts at Barton Hall at Cornell was awful, especially in the winter,” he said. “We’re so excited that now we can actually host home meets.”
However, below the surface, the attitude around campus regarding the way the college is using this facility is understandably mixed.
The campus website says that the field house will be used for track and field as well as a practice facility for lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, baseball, tennis, softball and football. But nowhere does it say it will be used for basketball or wrestling, and nowhere does it say that the football team will host their games on the turf field outside of the stadium.
In fact, the basketball teams will continue to practice and play their games in the aging Hill Center, which dates back to the 1960s. It is obvious that the school needs to update the Hill Center if it plans to continue using it for basketball, wrestling or any other sports. It just doesn’t come close to comparing to the new facility.
Sean Rossi, a junior guard on the Bombers’ men’s basketball team, is among those who wish the school decided to use their new facility for basketball.
“It is upsetting to a degree,” said Rossi. “Hopefully we can at least get the Hill Center renovated soon.”
Athletic Director Dr. Ken Kutler, who just moved into his new office in the new facility, says no timetable is in place to begin renovating the Hill Center.
“There are discussions going on right now as far as what to do with the Hill Center, but there are no definitive answers right now,” said Kutler.
However, he said the blueprint for the Athletic and Events Center includes a separate basketball arena across the road, as well as a wrestling facility. What disappoints most people on campus is that the school has not started building those facilities yet and there is no timetable to begin construction. Kutler also can’t see the school using the new field house for basketball, despite many other local schools such as Hamilton College and SUNY Oneonta hosting their basketball games in their field houses.
“The field house here will never be used for basketball unless they put a portable floor in,” Kutler said. “I don’t see that happening.”
Distinguished IC Alum and ESPN SportsCenter host Kevin Connors, who was a four-year member of the Ithaca men’s basketball team, said he believes the facility will be fantastic for the students who are able to utilize it, even though he would rather see the basketball and football teams to have a chance to play their games there.
“As someone who has played in the program in the past, I personally would like to see basketball be a part of it,” Connors said. “But I don’t know all of the details so I have a feeling the decision is made by people who thought long and hard about it.”
Perhaps at some point the campus community will see another side to this story or receive an explanation as to why some sports were left out. At this point, however, no announcements have been made about the future plans. Otherwise, Connors was impressed with the facility.
“Overall, the facility looks great for the students who can utilize it and it should be an enormous advantage over opponents,” Connors said.
The A&E Center does have some highlights. For instance, the new locker rooms are a large upgrade from the Hill Center locker rooms. Again, while several student-athletes are pleased to be getting an upgraded locker room, many are still using the locker rooms in the Hill Center. It depends on which sport a student-athlete plays since the athletic facilities are now divided across each end of campus.
“The new locker rooms [in the A&E Center] are a hundred times better than the Hill Center locker rooms,” said Lotsbom, whose track and field team will be living in luxury in the new locker rooms while the basketball team will be relegated to using the Hill Center locker rooms. “I have to say the track and field team is most excited for the locker rooms,” said Lotsbom.
One would think that the Hill Center, or other older buildings on campus, would be renovated before the college invests time and money into building the new Athletic and Events Center. There are photographs located in IC Square that show the Ithaca College campus five decades ago, and many of the buildings are exactly as they look today.
Whether the college decides to upgrade the Hill Center or create an arena adjacent to the new facility, it is clear that the campus community wants the school to create a more level playing field for all student-athletes instead of hosting sporting events in buildings that are 60 years apart from each other and on opposite ends of campus.
The campus community has been seemingly left in the dark regarding the plans of the unfinished portion of the new facility. The school’s website page about the A&E Center does not address the additional projects that Dr. Kutler mentioned, which would give the basketball team an arena as well as a facility for wrestling.
Perhaps the college plans to unveil future plans during the grand opening in October. Until then, the Ithaca College community will be left scratching their heads.