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A peek into the progress of Northwestern’s new athletic facilities

Northwestern University has $400 million worth of renovation projects for its athletic department. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times

Next summer will mark the next generation of Northwestern athletics.

The university’s athletic department hosted a media tour of the new Ryan Fieldhouse and Walter Athletics Center on Wednesday to show the project’s progress since it first broke ground back in November 2015.

The two facilities, which are connected and expected to be completed by next summer, consist of just the steel beam framing with a few windows. The cement floor is still covered in dirt and dust.

As one walks through the construction, it’s hard to imagine what the $270 million projects will look like once it’s completed. But one thing is for sure the view of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan is second to none.

This is the view from Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald’s office. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times
This is the view from Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald’s office. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times

Northwestern’s football coach Pat Fitzgerald only needed two words to describe the team’s feelings toward the new 500,000 square-foot athletic facilities: “excited” and “thankful.”

Fitzgerald said next summer Northwestern will probably have “one of the top facilities in the country.”

The windows have black dots on them to prevent birds from flying into them. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times
The windows have black dots on them to prevent birds from flying into them. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times

“We’re just thankful of the commitment from the university and the opportunity for us to be integrated,” Fitzgerald said after Wednesday’s practice. “ What we do and how we do things as a football program, you know, I think can be a great barometer of where we are as a university and see where things have headed for us without this.

“We’ve been a consistent winner. But now that we [will] have [the new facility], we’ll be a catalyst here a big step forward and that’s what is exciting.”

Northwestern’s Deputy Director of Athletics Brian Baptiste, who oversees capital projects and operations, said creating a “first-class experience” was a driving force to start these projects. He also said the university wanted to create these two facilities to help bring community among the student-athletes and create more convenience in their lives.

“It’s really a transformational project. It changes the day-to-day lives for our student athletes,” said Baptiste, who led Wednesday’s tour. “Imagine a student-athlete that has class at 9 a.m. They can go to class. They can come back to this athletic facility and meet with their academic advisor. … If they want to relax in their lounge, they can have the ability to do that all in close proximity of campus and it allows us to integrate with the rest of campus building and peers.”

This is part of the first floor of the Walter Athletic Complex. This is where coaches will meet with the media after practices. | Madeline Keneny/Sun-Times
This is part of the first floor of the Walter Athletic Complex. This is where coaches will meet with the media after practices. | Madeline Keneny/Sun-Times

The first floor will consist of locker rooms for Northwestern’s 19 Division I programs. The department’s sports medicine will be centric to the locker rooms and will have state of the art recovery technology, which Fitzgerald said is essential to keeping players safe and healthy. The lobby will also have multiple interactive video display boards.

On the second floor, the football program has practically the southeast side to itself with offices, a student-athlete’s lounge and an exclusive 14,000 square-foot weight room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Lake Michigan.

This is part of the third floor where student-athletes can eat meals provided by the athletic department. | Madeline Keneny/Sun-Times
This is part of the third floor where student-athletes can eat meals provided by the athletic department. | Madeline Keneny/Sun-Times

Fitzgerald’s office will overlook the south side of the complex and he’ll have a view of the skyline, practice fields and the lake.

The second floor also houses the Ryan Fieldhouse, which was designed to not only be an indoor practice area for all of Northwestern’s sports teams, but also host university events such as presidential addresses or convocation. The turf field is 80 yards wide and 136 yards long.

This is a look at the Ryan Field House, which will feature a turf field. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times
This is a look at the Ryan Field House, which will feature a turf field. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times

The third floor will is the athletic department’s dining facility. Student-athletes will have access to free meals throughout the day. The dining area is located on the southeast side of the building and, again, has floor-to-ceiling windows, which have block dots spotted on them to prevent birds from flying into them, and also have a balcony.

Fitzgerald said he thinks the new facility will help with recruiting and player development.

“It’s just all the things we need to take the next steps in the Big Ten and I’m just incredibly thankful for the university and from our incredibly generous families for making it happen,” Fitzgerald said.

Follow me on Twitter: @madkenney