By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: The SU Athletics Maggs Physical Activities Center. Hannah Wichrowski photo
Over the past few years, Salisbury University’s East Campus has undergone a roughly $40 million transformation with the new athletics facilities now present. Add the new Guerrieri Academic Commons alongside that and SU has seen increasingly new development to meet the needs of an expanding student population.
While these projects have taken place, one well-known building has remained at the heart of student activity– Maggs Physical Activities Center.
Built in 1977, Maggs PAC has undergone wear and tear, seen banners raised and watched as new generations have walked through its doors. Now Salisbury University athletics says that the time to move on from their main indoor facility might be just over the horizon.
“For a university of this stature, for a university that prides itself on doing things the right way and trying to have outstanding facilities, it’s time that we begin to take a serious look and develop a plan for a new athletic and recreation complex,” SU Athletics Director Dr. Gerry DiBartolo said.
For DiBartolo, who first came to SU in 1979, the need of a new indoor facility has become apparent over recent seasons. Two separate gyms were present on the SU campus in the 1970’s. Later on, as SU expanded and Fulton Hall came to be, the other gym, Tawes Gymnasium, was removed, leaving Maggs PAC as the lone gym complex.
Since the late 1970’s, SU has grown to nearly three times that of their student population then. Now with the new additions on East Campus, DiBartolo says that this additional need for both students and student-athletes is increasingly displayed.
“You have a significant improvement to a point where collectively to where I would say our outdoor facilities are as good as any in [NCAA] Division III in terms of how new they are, the quality, the surfaces, all those things,” DiBartolo said.
“But I can’t say that about our indoor facility. We try. We do our best to make [Maggs PAC] as useable and as accessible as we can.”
The SU Athletics Department’s mission to keep Maggs PAC as up-to-date as possible has taken on many forms recently. Included in those renovations has been air conditioning for building offices and the main gym, alongside a new hardwood floor in the main gym this past year.
Coming soon for the indoor facility will be major renovations to the natatorium within the building. That is currently in the planning stages.
While momentum begins within SU Athletics for a new indoor facility, one additional renovated feature will be installed towards the end of this spring semester.
Since its original construction, Maggs PAC has possessed the same bleachers in its main gym section. That will change soon. From mid-May to mid-June the facility will see the installation of new bleachers to replace the wooden ones.
“They’re not the most comfortable bleachers to sit in. Clearly the steps are high. Some of our fans struggle,” DiBartolo said.
Those bleachers will be ready ahead of the SU women’s volleyball season in the fall.
It is a major upgrade to the fan experience of the facility. DiBartolo said, alongside artistic depictions, the bleachers will created from a sturdier material and also brandish a large ‘Sammy the Sea Gull logo’ when they are stored against the wall.
This improvement to fan and student experience harkens back to the department’s desire for an overall newer facility.
“There comes a time when a building that was built for a campus population of 3,000 that’s 40-plus years old. Our campus community, our students, our faculty, our staff, they just deserve a better facility,” DiBartolo said.
During a recent three-game home stretch for the SU basketball teams, SU athletics officials began to circulate a petition for a New Maggs PAC that all community members visiting the building were given the opportunity to sign.
This same petition has gone through the student-athletes, faculty, staff, students, fans and the local community in order to gain supporters. Now it is at the entrance of Maggs PAC for visitors to sign.
It was created by SU Athletics.
“I think it’s time that students be able to express that they want a place that is modern and up-to-date where they can go and work out and exercise on state-of-the-art equipment in a state-of-the-art facility where our athletics teams can compete,” DiBartolo said.
The petition is aimed at drawing attention toward the greater cause of creating a newer indoor facility in which the basketball teams and women’s volleyball team could compete. DiBartolo’s idea for the larger project is a building that would benefit both the students and the varsity teams.
Due to a rising student population and community, DiBartolo cites the crowded nature of Maggs PAC on a daily basis. The former SU men’s soccer coach said it creates an uncomfortable atmosphere for the student body to exercise and workout.
“There’s no room. There’s just no room for it. We want to provide that kind of space. They’re proud. They’re excited to go work out. They’re going to work out in a facility that they are going to look forward to heading into,” DiBartolo said.
With only a few basketball courts and work out rooms, the building has grown very busy with student activity especially during the heights of varsity sports action.
In recent years, SU has gone lengths to try and alleviate this pressure by placing work out rooms in some residence halls and installing on-campus indoor options such as the University Fitness Center (UFC) and the Indoor Tennis Center, each on East Campus.
Overall, SU Athletics desires this mission to find a new home to become a top priority for SU.
To help make that a reality, the department is aiming to receive 5,000 signatures on the petition. DiBartolo says that the next step will be to present the documents to the SU president’s office after they continue to seek signatures through the end of February.
“Our hope is that we would present these surveys to Dr. Dudley-Eshbach by the end of February or early March so that she can the feeling of a number of individuals,” DiBartolo said.
Despite the New Maggs PAC goal, DiBartolo says that SU leadership has been a strong supporter of updates to the indoor facility recently.
“Over the years, this university and the leadership in athletics and the president’s office has attempted to do a really good job of trying to keep Maggs PAC as up to date and as current as possible,” DiBartolo said.
However, for SU athletics, the improvements and renovations can only go so far, leading them to look for a change.
Maggs PAC will remain for the immediate future while new bleachers and a renovated natatorium will come along shortly. However, the petition and desires from athletics leadership might be the start of a long-term goal. DiBartolo cautions eager eyes in the short-term.
“This is not an overnight process obviously. This is something that is going to take some time,” DiBartolo said.
While SU continues to see new construction and advances as it expands into the future, updates to SU athletics buildings might remain towards the top of the university’s list moving forward.
UPDATE: After the story’s original publication, Salisbury University was reached for comment on the petition and the potential for a new athletics indoor facility. Vice President of Administration and Finance Marvin Pyles, also overseeing campus facilities, wrote the following statement within e-mail correspondence on behalf of SU.
“A new fieldhouse has been part of the University’s facilities master plan for a quite a while. Too many students and student-athletes still exercise, compete and train in an outdated recreation and competition center,” Pyles said in the statement.
“For years we’ve been hearing from students about the inadequacies of Maggs Gym. Those concerns have grown as the campus has constructed state-of-the-art academic facilities, such as the Guerrieri Academic Commons. Our other athletics facilities, such as Sea Gull Stadium, also have been beautifully and functionally updated. We’re always interested in hearing student opinion and would love to be in a position to provide them with what they want and need.”