With no football on campus this fall, Jacksonville University athletics was bound to look different.
A deconstructed athletic fieldhouse is not the different many had in mind six months ago.
But it’s a good sort of different.
“We had an empty area parallel to the weight room, and so we started talking with our coaching staff, with our sports medicine staff, our strength and conditioning staff, about opening the area up,” athletic director Alex Ricker-Gilbert explained. “We had an idea back in January to knock down the walls and make the floor plan much more open.”
These conversations and plans were, ironically, all made prior to the coronavirus pandemic and the call for more social distancing in athletic facilities across the nation.
“The intent was to create a better environment to treat, train, and rehab,” Ricker-Gilbert continued. “That is still a large part of the intent, but with what’s happened with COVID-19, an added enhancement is how much more space we’ll have. About 2,000 square feet more. It will include a 20 yard turf area.”
The open, parallel area previously made up much of the old football locker room. In a weird, twist of fate, suspending football in December – months before the pandemic – has JU more ready than ever to tackle the challenges of the COVID-19 world.
“You know, it was hard to get all our teams cycled in and out of there at times. If we had continued with the football program, with COVID-19, with social distancing, with space concerns, it would’ve added a whole other element to our concerns and troubles with scheduling.
“While the decision [to eliminate football] was extremely difficult, what our focus needs to be going forward for those 450 student-athletes remaining: how can we make their experience as good as it possibly can be?”
Renovating the weight room and fieldhouse, which nearly all of JU’s athletic teams utilize, is certainly a start. Because it was a “renovation” and not a completely, new construction project, the fieldhouse project did not face any sort of speed bumps due to the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, Ricker-Gilbert’s team, along with their partner company, Stellar, is planning on having the facility ready for Dolphins student-athletes’ arrival to campus the first week of August. The entire renovation was financed by private donors.
Ricker-Gilbert also said the previously announced Basketball Performance Facility’s ground-breaking remains on schedule for later this summer.
“The ability to be able to do that is something I hope not only separates us as an athletics department, but as a university. To sort of make progress at a time where it would be very easy to stay stagnant.”
In a world where it has seemed like so many doors are closing, this one at JU is ready to swing wide open.