There is a room that is on the ground floor of the Lamkin Activity Center, a room that houses almost all of the equipment used by Northwest Athletics, including all of the team uniforms and the washers and dryers used to clean them .
In the fall of 2016, in the middle of drying a load of laundry, a small fire broke out. While no major damage was done, it did open the directors’ eyes to some issues not just in this room, but in Lamkin as a whole.
“We quickly realized that we shouldn’t code. There are significant issues with that,” North West athletic director Andy Peterson said. “So to do that we had to stretch out in the football locker room about 3 feet. Coach (Rich) Wright was the new head coach – he hadn’t been the head coach for very long – he obviously agreed, just sort of with the understanding that it was the first domino to a lot, which meant we’re going to dig into the lower level Lamkin.
That was over four years ago, but maybe a fire is prompting a downstairs renovation at Lamkin, which totals nearly $1.5 million. Northwest’s board of directors approved a contract to build the Northwest football program locker room on March 18, including a memo that the contract was not to exceed the $1.5 million mark. The completion date for the renovations is set for July 30, so construction will begin in the first weeks of April.
North West football coach Rich Wright has been at the forefront of the fundraising operation, which is about $100,000 short of the aforementioned goal. However, he is not just raising funds for another football dressing room facelift. His efforts, and those of all, will go towards more than Lamkin visitors can see.
“The real underlying issues are some of Lamkin’s guts,” Wright said. “You have HVAC issues, plumbing issues there. We have electrical problems. … It became a fundraising deal, not just – so to speak – putting lipstick on the pig.
Peterson said about two-thirds of the donations will go to things that most people in the building will never know have been changed.
“The main issues remain infrastructure,” Peterson said. “I mean, it’s a basement; it was built in 1960. Obviously, it has been widely used since then.
The purpose of the project is, in part, to completely revamp the football dressing room, but that’s mostly because it makes more sense to start there with Lamkin’s overall alteration plan. The swelling, Peterson said, starts with the football setup. It would make no sense to fix anything else before fixing the root of the problems, he said.
None of the changes are funded by the University, although some of the issues addressed are outside the athletics budget. Wright knows it’s not just his football players who will benefit from the money he’s raised. The people who donated know that too, although most of them are alumni of the football program, Wright said.
Most of the donations come from former players, some dating back to 2017, Wright recalled. The further away the alumni were, Wright said, the greater the donations.
As a Division II athletics department, athletics doesn’t have the luxury of brand new facilities, so Peterson is beginning a multi-phase renovation with some of the larger parts.
“It’s not just football stuff; that’s all in the equipment room. So all of these things will be better maintained and protected,” Peterson said. “We don’t have resources floating around endlessly, where we can just go and get what we want. When we receive things, we have to take care of them.
The renovation is also intended to provide modern housing for football players, given that no changes have been made to the locker room since Peterson attended Northwest as a men’s basketball player from 2003 to 2008. what would have changed, he said, was the addition of rugs in the locker room in 2006 and possibly a fresh coat of paint.
“We removed 11 of their lockers for the laundry room expansion, so they have – out of a roster of 148 guys – over 40 who share lockers,” Peterson said. “It’s not that bad, but it’s when you’re trying to prevent mold from being a problem on the cushions and in the lockers with the lack of ventilation.”
“When you think about the evolution of technology, we’re the e-campus, but no one can plug in their phone. No one could plug in their laptop. There are very few ports there,” said Wright, who has been in that same locker room since joining Northwest as a graduate assistant in 1995. “There’s no direct venting; it smells bad there because you have humidity problems.
For Wright and his players, the locker room isn’t just a place to change before and after competition. About 95% of Northwest football players live off campus, Wright said. That, coupled with the fact that most student-athletes aren’t too close to their hometown, means the locker room is a space Wright hopes to call home.
“The locker room kind of becomes their home during the day,” Wright said. “They can hang out and bond together; in any team sport, this is important. … Being able to provide these guys with a place to interact becomes paramount.
Northwestern football has a joint practice with Sioux Falls on April 16 in Maryville, but Wright said the last day in his space will be April 8.
Although it only directly benefits the football team at this time, the next phase of the Lamkin project involves taking care of the training facilities and weight room, which are used by every student-athlete.
“It’s just, we have to start somewhere,” Peterson said. “It was the first bite of the elephant we took.”