Athletic facilities seek future upgrades

Ray Bressette

A storage space and referee locker room will be transformed into the new men’s soccer locker room, which could symbolize changes on the horizon for athletic facilities.

NMU athletic director Forrest Karr said the potential upgrades could bring the department to the next level.ForrestKarr

“We’ve been looking over the past few years at different options to upgrade the experiences for both our fans and players,” Karr said. “Our facilities and locker rooms received minor upgrades and renovations every year, but we want to find a more efficient option for running our game day activities smoothly.”

The immediate change this upcoming summer will be a locker room addition for the men’s soccer team on the second floor of the Dome.

The men’s soccer team will play their inaugural season in the fall, and construction on the new locker room will begin in the summer and will be ready for the start of the season. The locker room will be located near the women’s soccer locker room and the Olympic weightlifting room.

But potential changes for spectators and game day experience are generating conversations and interest throughout the athletic department.

Karr said moving the men’s and women’s basketball teams from the Berry Events center to Vandament arena in the PIEF is an option they’ve began exploring.

In the current format, the basketball teams share the Berry with the hockey team, requiring student workers to cover the ice sheet with the basketball court. On weekends when all teams play at home, basketball gets the rink Thursday evening, with a switch needed back to the hockey ice immediately after the game for Friday’s game. When the hockey match concludes on Friday, the switch is needed once again for a pair of basketball games Saturday morning, than the process repeats for the Saturday evening hockey match.

NMU is the only team in the GLIAC conference to share  playing space with their school’s hockey team, creating more empty seats than teams are used to.

NMU men’s basketball coach Bill Sall said a smaller venue can create a much needed hostile environment for the ’Cats to play in.

“The Berry is so large with so much dead space,” Sall said. “Sometimes during the games you can’t even realize you have any fans when they’re spread out all over the place. To go into a smaller complex with 900 or 1,000 fans close up, you suddenly have a homecourt advantage. You want an atmosphere your players want to play in and have homecourt mean something, and with the Berry sometimes it’s lost.”

All three teams are at a disadvantage with their practices with the current method. The basketball teams only get a small number of practices on their game court each week, while the hockey team gets bussed over to Lakeview Arena for practice on a smaller ice than the Berry’s olympic-sized rink.

“This would give us the ability to shoot and play in our own environment leading up to the game,” Sall said. “Shooters always look for excuses. You can psychologically get yourself thinking about how you don’t even practice on your home floor. It’s similar to when teams play at neutral sites in the NCAA tournament, and statistically shooting percentages do down as the arena gets bigger.”

Changes to Vandament arena could potentially include additions to the PIEF between itself and the Berry Events Center, giving more room for a new concession stand, ticket office and restrooms.

New entrances would be added to Vandament arena, as well as a larger variety of seating surrounding an updated court with seatbacks replacing the current benches. A flat screen could also be added to the north wall.

The potential plans could also add locker rooms for the men’s and women’s ski team. The teams currently do not have lockers like the other varsity teams. The teams are provided a smaller space for changing before practice, but the new addition would give them locker rooms with proper restrooms and coaches offices.

“Historically, the ski program has been one of our strongest sports and truly one of the best in the country every year,” Karr said. “It’s a weakness to this department (not having a ski locker room), and since I came here I’ve been wanting a solution, especially considering their achievements they reach.”

While athletics explores opportunities to get the process rolling, Karr said they are just entering the beginning stages of making it happen.

“It’s a project we feel makes a lot of sense, it’s just a matter of finding the best financial way,” Karr said. “It’s too early to plan any dates at this point. We haven’t had the in depth conversations we need with potential donors or seeing if there is enough interest. We would like to see this become a reality in the next few years, but we have a ways to go.”

The Berry Events Center could also see upgrades in hockey game experience for the fans with an installment of a jumbotron video scoreboard.

NMU is one of the only WCHA teams that does not operate with a jumbotron. Michigan Tech improved their arena in 2013, while Lake Superior State has yet to add one as well.

Karr said this addition is another plan that is also searching for financial support to get the project started.

“Installing a four-sided center-hung video board in the Berry Events Center is a high priority for the department,” Karr said. “It would add to the gameday experience for fans and student-athletes, and help coaches with recruiting. The timing of this project will depend on our ability to raise private sector funds.”