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Fit and Fortunate for a Viable Future

As I write this, a cavernous rectangular pit has appeared in the ground just off Stewart Street near the south end of the Manion Townhouse complex.

It might be starting out as a muddy hole, but soon enough it will metamorphose into a beautiful swimming pool – the glass-encased centerpiece of the new Mulva Family Fitness & Sports Center, which will open in conjunction with next May’s Commencement.

At St. Norbert, we have been talking about a campus swimming pool for a long time. How long? Well, the original plans for the Schuldes Sports Center, which opened in 1979 and which is being subsumed by the new arena, also included a pool. In fact, it would have been located pretty much where Miron Construction’s workers are digging right now. But without enough money for that, the college’s leaders at the time just couldn’t take the pool plunge.

We have been more fortunate this time around. In the same way that the Gehl-Mulva Science Center has been a transformational resource for the academic and intellectual life of SNC, the new fitness and sports complex will fundamentally change the campus experience for our students, and in all the best ways. As you know, we say our mission is to educate students in mind, body and spirit. We’ve more or less had the mind and spirit parts covered since we opened our doors in 1898. But as for their physical-fitness needs? That has been a nagging challenge, from those earliest days when fitness at SNC meant intramural boxing and a few rounds with the medicine ball.

With the pool, a state-of-the-art fitness complex, a new indoor track, a number of spaces devoted to yoga and other exercise and rehabilitative activities, and a spacious Wellness Center that gets our current health- and counseling-related offices out of a cramped Main Hall basement, the Mulva Family Fitness & Sports Center promises to become one of the busiest spots on campus.

But advances like this don’t come cheap. The fitness center – at nearly double the space under roof than Schuldes – will cost upward of $26 million, which after the science building is the second most expensive construction project the college has ever undertaken. Miriam and Jim Mulva’s incredible generosity in a lead gift has covered half of that amount, and thankfully quite a few other benefactors have followed their lead. We’re still working hard to secure the unpledged “tail” on the project.

Indeed, when that drive is done, we will have had the good fortune to invest almost $140 million in new, renovated and repurposed resources on this campus in my nine years. More to the point, at a time when higher education is under (appropriate) scrutiny for rising costs, I’m proud to say that virtually all this new infrastructure has been privately underwritten, keeping it out of SNC’s operating budget – that is, we have not put this investment on the backs of our tuition-paying students.

Nor, despite what you might have read about college arms races, are these facilities by any stretch of the imagination “luxuries.” Each has been central to the student experience and the financial stability of St. Norbert College.

Take the fitness center. Increasingly, facilities such as this are simply essential. As a residential campus, St. Norbert actually requires students to live here. (Only a small number – a tad over 10 percent of our students who reside within a short drive of the college – are waived out of this requirement.) But in insisting on our students being resident, it’s only fair that we provide a residential experience that is both satisfying and healthy. Today’s college students are concerned about their fitness, thank goodness, and they are no more interested in a campus without serious exercise spaces than business travelers want hotels without exercise spaces. Besides that, for those looking to stave off boredom, especially in the winter months, any constructive alternative to bar-hopping is a good thing!

Or consider the science building. Very early in my time here it became evident that St. Norbert was either going to demonstrate its long-term commitment to the sciences or it wasn’t. The Minahan Science Building was middle-aged and showing it, with some labs starting to resemble museum pieces. With the glittering new science center, however, we are poised to teach and perform science at the highest level for the next several decades. And of course, the Gehl-Mulva Science Center also facilitated our becoming the host site for the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Green Bay-area campus, a development that is already throwing off dividends.

The library? Well, let’s just say you can’t be a serious college without a serious library. Michels Commons? Come on, everybody knows students need good food to fuel all that studying over at the library!

As for Schneider Stadium: Not only was our old football stadium in East De Pere on the verge of falling down, but athletics are increasingly vital to enrollment. That’s especially true with football and the male population. (In any given year the freshman football roster can account for between 5 and 10 percent of the entire freshman class.) Almost as impactful is our growing track program, which recruits both men and women – and remember, we didn’t even have a viable track before Schneider. The men’s and women’s soccer teams benefit from the stadium too, naturally. And just down the road, our baseball and softball programs got their own shiny new home a few years back when we completely reimagined the Mel Nicks complex.

I could go on, but you get the point.

These resources are wonderful in and of themselves, but they are even more significant for what they make possible overall at St. Norbert: a first-rate faculty and instructional regimen; full enrollment composed of an ever more accomplished study body; creative partnerships like those we enjoy with Bellin College and the Medical College of Wisconsin; a comprehensive living environment that complements the classroom setting; and the opportunity to truly educate the entire person.

And since this issue of the magazine is our annual report on giving to St. Norbert College, it’s fitting that I end with this simple truth: None of this progress would have been possible without you. Thank you, and God bless you! 

Nov. 14, 2016