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Northwestern Trustees Approve Gleaming New Athletic Facility

Northwestern Athletic Facility

A drawing of the planned new athletic facility at Northwestern University. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 09/15/12 11:59 a.m.

EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) — Trustees at Northwestern University have voted in favor of a massive new multipurpose athletic facility on Lake Michigan.

The university announced Saturday that the board had approved the new multipurpose facility, which will be used from everything from the annual new student convocation to practice for varsity sports and intramurals.

The university will also construct a new 1,200-car parking garage on the existing surface lot west of the current sports complex and the Dellora A. and Lester J. Norris Aquatics Center, which is under renovation.

The complex will include a multipurpose practice facility with seating for 2,500, a diving well adjacent to the existing swimming pool, a new outdoor practice field, locker rooms, weight and fitness rooms, and sports medicine facilities.

The parking structure will include fitness studios, weight rooms and other exercise facilities on the ground floor, Northwestern said.

Once the construction is complete, all Northwestern football program activities will be consolidated on campus, rather than at Ryan Field – which is located on Central Street in Evanston about a mile west of the Northwestern campus. Ryan Field will only be used to play actual games.

“This new plan will provide greatly enhanced recreational facilities for all of our students, increased parking at the north end of campus and improved key areas for our athletic programs,” Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro said in a news release. “This will be a benefit to many members of the Northwestern community.”

The estimated price tag is $220 million, Northwestern said.

The Chicago Tribune cites sources that call the on-campus facility a potential “game-changer” for football recruiting, allowing players to practice and train, and meet with coaches and academic advisers without having to go to Ryan Field, located on Central Street in Evanston about a mile west of the Northwestern campus.

The master plan for the new facility was announced nearly two years ago, and a study by the architectural firm Populous was presented to Northwestern trustees a year ago, the Tribune reported.

The plan was not popular with everyone at Northwestern. Some were concerned about the expense of constructing the facility, and handing over prime lake shore real estate with Chicago skyline views to athletics rather than academics, the newspaper reported.

But Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips emphasized that the facility would benefit not just the Wildcats football team, but multiple athletic programs – with an indoor field for intramurals, tracks that would be open to students during off-hours, and other amenities, the Tribune reported.

Wildcats football coach Pat Fitzgerald told recruits he hopes the new facility will be open by August 2014, the newspaper reported.

The board of trustees’ educational properties committee must grant final approval to the facility Saturday.