Assistant Athletic Director Justin Newell is afraid Kenyon might be losing potential new recruits. The Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC) attracts prospective athletes with its impressive weight room and Olympic-sized swimming pool, but the condition and accessibility of the athletic fields may turn them towards the College’s competitors.
“I’m not for an arms race,” Newell, who is also director of the KAC, said in reference to upgrading Kenyon’s outdoor facilities. “But if it starts to affect the mission of the College, where we lose students to schools like Oberlin or Depauw or Denison because we’re greatly lacking in that — it shouldn’t be a detriment.”
On Tuesday, Aug. 30, architects from the Cambridge-based Gund Partnership, run by Graham Gund ’63 and the Boston-based landscape architecture firm Carol R. Johnson Associates, first met with the College to discuss developing a Master Plan for Kenyon’s athletic fields. Newell said the renovations will focus on upgrading the outdoor facilities and making them more accessible to athletes and the public by adding proper seating, places to view the games and restrooms instead of port-a-potties. The addition of a new turf field for both club and student athletes is one of the College’s top priorities, according to Newell, in addition to ensuring renovations make facilities look like a part of Kenyon’s campus.
“One of the big drivers was kind of a disconnection,” Newell said. “What can we do to potentially create a continuity … rather than feeling like you’re not on campus when you go to the lower fields?”
The Master Plan will also focus on ensuring the fields fulfill Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX requirements, according to Newell and Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman..
The College is also considering adding lights to the varsity athletic fields, but needs to examine the Knox County zoning laws before making a final decision. President Sean Decatur said the College may not be able to light certain fields because of their proximity to residential areas.
The College does not yet have a budget or a timeline for the new Master Plan, but plans to settle the details by the Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 27.
Decatur said the project would exceed the $100,000 mark after which the trustees have to approve all plans. The money will likely come from the College’s $4 million building replacement and repair budget.
Decatur anticipates the College’s upcoming capital campaign might help fund a longer-term plan for athletic field projects.
Grace Pilz ’19, who plays softball, said the fields are a burden and their inaccessibility impacts the team’s ability to recruit players.
“We had our first practice yesterday, and there was more than one freshman who didn’t know how to get down there,” Pilz said.
She said the location of the softball field makes it awkward for people to find, and there is only a single row of bleachers for spectators.
This can factor into a recruit’s decision when considering schools, according to Pilz, and she hopes the College will make the fields more accessible in the future.
Sam Clougher ’17, men’s soccer co-captain, said the condition of the south fields have become an issue during his time at Kenyon, although he does not blame this on KAC employees.
“In general, the south fields have had a visible deterioration during my three years here, and it’s extremely visible,” Clougher said. “Not just our field, but all fields.”
Clougher said accessibility is also an issue for the soccer team and that Mavec Field feels completely disconnected from the KAC and the rest of campus.
He echoed worries that Kenyon might be losing recruits to other schools.
“You go down currently and you look at the fields and you look at the dirt,” Clougher said. “And you could go to Oberlin, and they have a beautiful system and it’s like ‘oh, well equal being equal, why not go plan B?’”
Cameron Messinides contributed reporting.