In a season of social distancing, there is irony in the Whitworth University athletics department celebrating the fact that nearly all their coaches can now – after years spent in five different buildings – be together under the same roof.
But with so much of the world of college athletics in flux or unknown – including the postponement of four of Whitworth’s fall sports’ seasons to the spring – moving into the new Whitworth Athletic Leadership Team Center last week was a bright spot in an otherwise dim landscape.
“It’s an exciting new beginning,” men’s basketball coach Damion Jablonski said from a chair in his new office on Monday. “I think it’s very encouraging, just given the state of things, to have something to look forward to, and to know that such a significant investment has been made into athletics here.”
Jablonski could see the construction project from his previous office, tucked above the basketball court in Graves Gym. His new space now looks in the other direction, across the tennis courts right back at Graves but with a much more expansive view.
There is a window in nearly every office of the 28,000-square-foot building, which athletics director Tim Demant said cost an estimated $13 million to construct. It was originally scheduled to open in mid-June, but the pandemic-related shutdown caused delays.
The building also contains various new shared spaces for meetings, a kitchen and lounge area, and a 131-stall football locker room, enough for every member of the team to have his own.
Football coach Rod Sandberg called it “a first-class locker room.”
That is in contrast to the old space in Graves, where seniors got their own stall but everyone else had to double up, Demant said.
The building contains offices for the department’s leadership team, each head coach and many assistant coaches, with additional work areas that can be used by various teams or groups. Aside from the swimming coaches – who kept their offices across the parking lot in the Whitworth Aquatic Center – none of the coaches will need to leave the building to find one another.
“Unless we had reason to connect, I often wouldn’t see coaches,” Demant said. “The opportunity to have organic relationships in a place like this is huge.”
Women’s soccer coach Bryan Olson watched the construction from his office in the basement of Graves Gym for more than a year. On Monday, he was one of the first coaches to move in.
One of his laments about coaches being spread across campus was that they didn’t have convenient space to gather, especially during the cold, dark winter days.
“Honestly, I’m excited there’s gonna be a coffee maker and a fridge and an opportunity to gather over food,” Olson said. “Nothing brings people together quite like food.”
Volleyball coach Kati Bodecker also moved in on Monday. She noted the positive impact it will have on the department’s culture, and also how it will serve as a gathering place for current and future athletes – whenever they are allowed to gather in groups again.
“It’s gonna serve our current athletes’ needs, but it’s gonna do a great job of improving our ability to recruit,” she said. “As they get to see the beautiful facilities, they get to see that athletics are valued at Whitworth and that our leadership and president (Beck Taylor) really support athletics.”
Moving into the WALT Center allows other spaces on campus to be repurposed. The athletics offices in Westminster Hall will be used by other departments, Demant said, and the offices in Graves Gym could be used to store desks from other classrooms on campus that are being thinned out to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Whitworth plans to reopen with in-person instruction through its WhitworthFLEX plan, with classes beginning Sept. 9.
Additionally, the football locker rooms in Graves that were used by the Whitworth football team can now be used for the visiting team, as opposed to a curtained-off section of the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
While there are no further projects immediately planned, Demant said up next would be renovating the press box at the Pine Bowl.
The WALT was also built with expansion in mind: Phase II of the project would include tearing down Graves Gym and the adjacent tennis courts and replacing them with an events center.
“A lot of these things are donor- dependent,” Demant said, “and if there’s the right donor who has the vision for it, it’s amazing what can happen.”
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