For more than 40 years, the athletics facilities at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul’s campus resembled pre-1988 Wrigley Field: lacking lights. Football practice would drift into darkness, which descends cold and early in the Minnesota autumns, and college athletes would routinely miss classes because of the meteorologically mandatory day games.
“We’d schedule soccer doubleheaders at 1 and 3 p.m. and hope they wouldn’t go into overtime,” says Matt Hill, vice president for student life and athletics. “You’d have a kicker practicing at 6 p.m. at the end of October, and it’d be anybody’s guess if the ball went through the uprights or not.”
The situation, as you might guess, wasn’t exactly sustainable. So in 2014 — after eight years of fundraising and paperwork — Hill and the school’s athletics department flipped the switch on new lights. But the project was no simple fix: The school bulldozed “every square inch of the athletic facility,” Hill says. It redesigned the entire grounds for football, baseball, softball, soccer, tennis and lacrosse; added new locker rooms and concession stands; and installed turf.
The $11 million project brought improvements for student-athletes and coaches who could suddenly see in batting cages and during passing drills. But it held greater benefits: Missed class time declined more than 80 percent for Northwestern-St. Paul’s college athletes. Intramural sports — which usually shut down at dusk — gained new life. The fields even became a revenue generator; the school rents to a host of Minnesota high school and club teams. And, Hill says, the lights have been a boon to recruiting, as well. “The only negative,” Hill laughs, “is that our workdays got extended by three or four hours.”