By Alex Pijanowski
In the last decade, Kenyon has made several architectural additions including the Gund Gallery, Horvitz Hall and the expansion of Peirce Hall.
Arguably, none of these construction projects has had as much of an impact on Kenyon’s landscape as the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC), located on Duff Street at the bottom of Kenyon’s iconic Hill.
With construction beginning in late 2002, the KAC first opened its doors in January of 2006.
According to Mark Kohlman, the College’s chief business officer, the cost of construction was $72 million, and the average annual cost of operating the facility is approximately $550,000.
Justin Newell, an assistant athletic director, is also the full-time director of the KAC. He views the facility as abounding in potentialities.
“Across the board, it doesn’t matter — this facility sells,” Newell said. “This is a recruiting tool and a recruiting advantage, and it is a blatant ‘wow’ factor that is not only good for coaches [who are] recruiting athletes, but just the regular student that would come in and take a tour.”
For Newell, the building represents more than an athletic facility.
“I think [the KAC] shows a dedication to realizing where an incoming students’ desires and needs are,” he said. “It shows that the College as a whole is interested in the complete mind, body, spirit — the idea of liberal arts, that the body is an integral portion of that.”
To further illustrate his point, Newell referred to non-athletic events hosted by the KAC, such as craft shows, the annual Earth Day half-marathon and the 2012 premiere of the film Liberal Arts, as evidence of its versatility.
“We’re the biggest building in Knox County, and have the largest spaces to be able to host things,” he added. “We are a community resource and a community center.”
When Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach Doug Misarti arrived at Kenyon in 2007, the KAC been in operation for a little over a year. He agreed that the building is a major boon for recruitment.
“A facility like this is second to none in terms of small colleges,” Misarti said. “It’s something that can certainly set us apart.”
Scott Thielke, head men’s and women’s tennis coach, has worked at the College for over 20 seasons. In that time, he has seen an evolution in his ability to leverage Kenyon’s athletic facilities during recruitment.
“The KAC has made a very big difference in recruiting, because the athletic facilities that we had previous to the KAC were probably some of the poorest athletic facilities in our conference,” he said. “We can now use our facilities as a positive, instead of trying to avoid the question about facilities.”
Tierney McClure ’18, an outside hitter on the Ladies volleyball team, said that the KAC was a draw when she was mulling collegiate programs.
“It was the first thing I saw coming onto campus,” she said. “It’s nice and bright. … It’s definitely a selling point.”
Head Men’s and Women’s Swimming Coach Jess Book ’01 is in a unique position to comment on the KAC because he swam at Kenyon in the era before the new facility was constructed. He said that space limitations at the team’s previous facilities necessitated that some sections of the team practice at separate times, which was not always conducive to team unity.
While speaking highly of the building’s features, Book acknowledged that the KAC is not the sole determining factor of the athletic experience at Kenyon.
“I want someone to choose Kenyon because it’s the right place for them,” Book said. “[The KAC] should be the icing on the cake, not the cake.”
Even so, Book is also aware of the building’s effect upon potential Lords and Ladies.
“Their eyes light up,” he said. “It’s very attractive and functional.”
One major challenge for the College in coming years will be making the most of the KAC’s marketing potential in order to offset the cost of its construction. Because the walk up and down the Hill to the KAC is a strenuous one, tours of the building are offered separately from the generic admissions tours.
“That Hill is pretty brutal, and I think most Kenyon students know that,” Newell said. “That’s why a separate tour is offered.”
Despite the many testaments to the widespread usefulness of the facility, Newell thinks more can and should to be done to expose its many advantages to groups of visitors.
“Between admissions and us, we’re trying to figure out a better way to handle that,” Newell said. “We think this is a showpiece. It was voted number-one in the nation by the Princeton Review last year, of any division.”
For Newell, the high cost of the KAC is justified. “For the future of Kenyon, this building is integral,” he said.