SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Lake Superior State University's Board of Trustees approved a plan during its May 11 public meeting to convert James Norris Center's natatorium area into a state-of-the-art court complex that will be used for volleyball, "eSport" events, and basketball.
"We understand there will be valued members of the campus and Sault communities who will be affected by the closure of the pool," said LSSU President, Dr. Peter Mitchell. "Please know we tried several strategies that would retain the pool, but the combination of very high operating costs and impending renovation costs forced us to consider other options. As we explored these options, creative new opportunities emerged."
Mitchell cited finances of keeping the pool open and federally-mandated parity between men's and women's sports as main drivers for the Norris space realignment initiative, the details of which will be defined in the coming months.
"Although state-of-the-art at the time of construction, the swimming pool is not the proper size for intercollegiate sports," said Mitchell. "Utilities, maintenance, supplies, and lifeguard costs total $140,000 annually, with pressing renovations estimated to cost close to $500,000 required over the next two to three years."
A recent assessment by the federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR) found that LSSU had no comparable program for women as with the NCAA Division I men's hockey team.
"Our decision supports women's athletics, specifically focusing on volleyball as a premier Division II sport at LSSU," Mitchell said.
Plans call for the natatorium to be closed July 31 for transformation into a surfaced area for volleyball, basketball, and intramurals. There will also be an extensive renovation and expansion of locker rooms for teams and the general public along with the creation of lofts - similar to
Taffy Abel - with one side overlooking the new volleyball court and the other side overlooking the Bud Cooper Gymnasium.
Finally, an area for eSports will be created at the far end of the volleyball court. These are participatory competitions played on a screen the size of a wall, with bleachers for fans to watch.
"eSports are growing exponentially with both players and spectators," said Mitchell. "The 20,000-seat Los Angeles Forum – home of the L.A. Lakers - sold out in three hours for a major match. eSports are great winter activities, plus our strong computer science and engineering programs will attract gamers, thereby increasing the excitement while aiding in increasing student enrollment."
Mitchell added that the Norris Center decision came by recommendation from a University task force and then communicated to a group of community leaders representing the city, school district, recreation, and economic development.
"Sault CVB Executive Director and the Soo's greatest cheerleader, Linda Hoath, is already working with LSSU Athletic Director David Paitson on attracting basketball and volleyball tournaments to the Norris Center," said Mitchell. "This will be great venue for volleyball teams from throughout the Upper Peninsula, Lower Peninsula, and Ontario for tournaments and practice and creating a new revenue stream for LSSU."