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MOUNT VERNON — When you tried to get in direct contact with Cornell College Athletics Director Seth Wing last week, he advised via email to call his cell phone and not his office phone.
He’s busy because this is spring, for one thing. On top of his administration duties, Wing also is the Rams head baseball coach.
But more than anything, it’s because he doesn’t really have a bona fide office right now. He’s not the only one in the athletics department temporarily out of a work home.
Cornell is in the beginning stages of a $19-million expansion and renovation of the Small Sport Center on campus. This is an 18-month project expected to be completed in the fall of 2022.
“This is going to have a huge impact on the recruitment of new students. Not just student-athletes, but new students. It’s a much-needed thing,” Wing said. “To put it bluntly, our sports complex is not very welcoming to the general student population, because the space is so limited. So this is going to have an impact on our recruitment of traditional students, student-athletes, retaining students, retaining student-athletes, and it also will increase the overall campus morale.
“We think it will help, for example, our game days to be better, because it’s going to make this place much more welcoming, students will come into the building more. It’s like ‘Hey, there’s a game going on, I can come into this place.’ I truly see this as a trickle-down effect, not only in our recruitment and retention, but then also overall and game-day event experience.”
Small Sport Center last was renovated in 1986, with the addition of a six-lane indoor track, basketball, tennis and volleyball courts and practice space for other activities. The facility is named after Cornell alumnus Richard Small and his wife, Norma, whose financial gift accelerated the renovation.
The Smalls provided lead financial gifts for the new project, as did fellow alumni Jean Russell and Scott and Shelley Ririe. Thus far, $15 million of the $19 million has been raised.
The refurbished Richard and Norma Small Athletic and Wellness Center (which the school will nickname the SAW) will include an addition of almost 22,000 square feet.
“We have gotten to a point where athletics and wellness is driving a lot of student decisions, and where they’re going (to school),” Wing said. “It’s all about the experience they are going to get in addition to their academic piece. You can go a lot of places and get a great education. But if we can separate ourselves from that experience part that goes along with the education … This building is going to help us do that. So I’m really excited about what that will bring to the table for us.”
“It will be an amazing addition to campus,” Russell said in a story posted on Cornell’s website. “I can’t wait to see the new and renovated building filled with students in just a year and a half. This building will become a gathering place for current and future students as the college continues to grow.”
The renovations will include a new wellness and fitness center with updated cardio and weight equipment. There also will be a “group” exercise room for classes and training.
Further additions include a 20-yard multi-purpose turf area, new classrooms and new “centralized” office spaces and a conference room for coaches, staff and administration. The lobby of the building will be rebuilt and expanded, allowing students and visitors to gather and communicate in a much more comfortable way.
That last thing is something in which Wing has particular excitement, saying the renovation also should greatly aid Cornell’s volleyball, wrestling and men’s and women’s basketball programs.
“It’s going to be huge for our strength and conditioning, our sports medicine,” he said. “But I’m going to be honest with you, I’m most excited to have a cool game-day experience for our student-athletes. Having a space we can host alums pregame and during a game and after a game. Just build those connections. I’m just really excited about some of the things we’ll be able to do.”
The school had a virtual groundbreaking ceremony last week and construction is underway, as of Monday. The project is part of Cornell’s Greater > Than Campaign of campus improvements.
Those improvements include the construction of a new science building, the restoration of College Hall, a new grass soccer field and the renovation of Van Metre Field at Ash Park, the school’s football, soccer and lacrosse stadium.
“We were just really lucky with what we have received already,” Wing said of donations. “Without essentially really having to do (heavy fundraising), yet. For us to get the lead gifts we have just truly shows how special this place is to a lot of people.”
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