“Going forward, building on our rich history and deep commitment to our students, Muhlenberg College also aims to realize more fully our potential to be recognized broadly as one of the nation’s finest liberal arts college,” wrote Muhlenberg’s President John Williams in the College’s new Strategic Plan. “Our plan is to strengthen our value and distinction by investing to develop ever more academic excellence, the vibrancy of the student experience, our diverse and inclusive community and the powerful outcome we help our students achieve. Above all, Muhlenberg will be recognized increasingly for bringing out our students’ full intellectual and personal potential and for opening doors to their future possibilities in whatever pathways they choose to pursue.”
The Strategic Plan is essentially a list of things the college looks to achieve in the coming years. From improved residential life to expanded Wescoe School options, the plan acts as a guideline for future endeavors by the college.
The next step in the process of eventual campus improvement is the Muhlenberg College Campus Master Plan, which is being developed closely aligned with the Strategic Plan. While the Strategic Plan lays out what things need to be changed or added, the Master Plan will become the way of implementing those changes.
That is where Wallace Roberts and Todd, or WRT Design, comes in. Based in Philadelphia, Pa., WRT’s team of planners, urban designers, architects and landscape architects have been entrusted with the organization of Muhlenberg’s Master Plan. Some of those tasked with working with the Muhlenberg community – Charles Neer, Maarten Pesch and Yogesh Saoji – have previous experience developing educational campuses. Some of their previous work includes Virginia State, Germantown Academy and The Haverford School. Most notably in the local area, WRT was responsible for the SteelStacks Arts and Cultural Campus in nearby Bethlehem which re-forged “a cultural link to the manufacturing heart of the Lehigh Valley.”
It’s frustrating to speak our minds about something that means a whole lot to us and nothing ever gets done about it
The firm’s experience working in urban environments is essential to Muhlenberg’s expansion ideas. Being that campus is nestled in the West End of Allentown, there is little room for campus to grow and few options for Muhlenberg to buy more property without making the campus noncontiguous. The physical limits of Muhlenberg’s location are perhaps felt by athletics the most.
Members of WRT’s team first met with what they call “student-athlete mentors” on Friday, Sept. 15 of this year. Most athletic teams were represented by at least one student athlete per team. This campus meeting, along with others held with different student groups throughout the day, were part of the campus outreach and engagement process that WRT undergoes when creating a plan.
The student group session with athletes highlighted the need for additional practice fields for both varsity athletics and recreational, or club, sports. But for the student-athletes involved, it became a fight over Scotty Wood Stadium and Varsity Field. Scotty Wood Stadium houses both the football field and the outdoor track. Aside from the football team, field hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse also play their home contests on Frank Marino Field. Men’s and women’s soccer are the only teams that use both Varsity Field and the practice field next to it, although throwers of the track team use it occasionally during their field events during meets as well.
According to Corey Goff, Muhlenberg’s Athletic Director, the greatest area of deficiency, from a facility standpoint, right now is space. Looking at the outdoor team sports, there is the largest amount of space on campus devoted to the two grass fields, which is being used by a total of two teams. Between men’s soccer and women’s soccer, in a given year, there are about 50 student athletes using double the size of space that’s being used by probably 200 student athletes.
But like most facilities, from the eyes of Muhlenberg athletes, even the soccer fields are imperfect.
“At the meeting many teams talked about possibly getting a turf field to replace the grass soccer fields,” said Zachary Cimring ‘20, a member of the men’s soccer team. “The uneven playing surface has caused many injuries, it decreases the quality and art of the game and, when it rains, the grass fields are unplayable, forcing teams to share the one turf field. This messes with practice schedules and forces teams to practice really late at night. I really hope the administrators see how not having a turf soccer field is affecting not just our athletic lives but our academic lives as well.”
For the baseball and softball teams, the issue is bigger than upgrading the athletic facilities on campus. While changing the soccer fields from grass to turf would benefit athletics greatly, it does nothing to help the grievances of some other Muhlenberg’s teams. Aside from the golf teams, baseball and softball are the only varsity sports that do not have a facility on campus; the difference between baseball and softball and golf is that the combined men’s and women’s golf teams rosters about 15 students, which softball and baseball combine for over 50.
“There is a huge discrepancy in field quality between baseball and softball and the rest of the teams,” said Kristy Selby ‘19, a member of the softball team. “We do not own our field, so we do not get first dibs on it; we can get kicked off because the county wants to host tournaments or do something that will make them more money. There’s no contract holding them to us so there’s no security. Our field is also used by people who do not take care of it properly, but making changes to the field would not make sense financially. It is not up to either the standards of our conference or even the standards of the college.”
I believe in benchmarking against the schools that we compete with
“It’s hard to listen to other athletes from other sports talk about their issues because the baseball and softball teams should have their voices heard the most,” said Chris Grillo ‘19, a member of the baseball team. “We play on fields that are by far the worst in the conference, in terms of the actual playing surface as well as the facilities around the field. We have been begging for years for something to be done and it seems as though every meeting ends with no actual change.”
Grillo continued, “Now as a junior, it seems as though we will continue to suffer with unacceptable and embarrassing playing fields. And the funny thing is, none of our fellow students or faculty can sympathize with the baseball or softball teams because almost all of them have never been to our fields. It’s frustrating to speak our minds about something that means a whole lot to us and nothing ever gets done about it.”
Goff, who served as Muhlenberg baseball head coach before becoming Athletic Director, said this in regard to the baseball/softball issue, “I believe in benchmarking against the schools that we compete with. For baseball and softball, for example, I would love for Muhlenberg to be able to provide on campus facilities. The reality is that most small colleges haven’t been willing to allocate the space for the limited number of students it impacts for the limited number of time it impacts them. Having a facility off campus is not the issue for baseball and softball the issue is that we don’t have an adequate facility, even the one that’s off campus.”
Aside from playing surfaces, students at the meeting also brought up ideas to improve the Life Sports Center on campus, or commonly known as the LSC. Student-Athletes expressed interest in ideas such as a Varsity Sports weight room, which many colleges and universities utilize. Also, getting rid of the pool was an idea pitched due the apparent lack of use which the space currently sees. The racquetball court space seemed to be a popular area in which student athletes at Muhlenberg saw potential. One student athlete suggested artificially turfing that space which could be used by student athletes on days where the weather is poor, or as an extension of the field house which is frequently used by in and out of season teams to warm up and condition before workouts. Some even expressed their displeasure with the lack of ventilation in the field house with many expressing that at times they felt it was so muggy that breathing was a struggle during workouts.
With each athletic team wanting changes implemented that benefit their own team, it will be difficult for the Athletic Department to pick and choose which projects get the necessary time, money and space.