July 12, 2022 • Athletic AdministrationFacilities

NAU’s Athletes-First Approach to New Student-Athlete High Performance Center

Designed to attract top student-athletes to Northern Arizona University, the Student-Athlete High Performance Center focuses on the wellness and development of all NAU student-athletes, while also providing valuable educational and recruitment opportunities.

The opening of the new Student-Athlete High Performance Center elevates Northern Arizona University’s offerings to all current and future Lumberjack student-athletes. University leaders, local dignitaries, past and current Lumberjacks, and community members gathered to celebrate the grand opening in late April. 

nauThe facility was designed by the DLR Group and was built by CORE Construction.

The new 72,000-square-foot, $46 million training center is located on South San Francisco Street, east of J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome, an indoor multipurpose stadium utilized by various Lumberjack programs. Nestled into a hillside filled with ponderosa pines and views of Humphreys Peak, the center substantially increases academic, weight training, recovery, and nutrition space available to Lumberjack student-athletes. It also is the first NAU athletics facility partially funded through alumni and former student-athlete contributions.

Entering the building is an experience all its own. Visitors cross a 140-foot walking bridge that begins at the base of the tree line and elevates 20 feet to the canopy level of the old-growth trees before reaching the entry, which allowed us to leave the site as untouched as possible. Once inside, patrons are immersed in the Grand Hall where championships are celebrated and memorabilia is displayed to capture the essence of the Lumberjacks.

“The iconic Parsons Family Auditorium undeniably features one of the best views of any training facility in the country, sitting above the tree line with a 60-by-40-foot glass wall that frames unobstructed views of the 12,600-foot Humphreys Peak and the San Francisco Range,” Andrew Kelly, DLR Group’s sports design leader, said in an issued statement.

Other features include the country’s largest high-altitude training chamber on a collegiate campus. It can simulate atmospheric conditions ranging from sea level to 12,000 feet, allowing student-athletes to train at higher elevations and recover faster at sea level. The Scott and Franci Free Academic Center increases dedicated academic space from 700 square feet to more than 7,000 square feet and offers individual study areas, three classrooms, a computer lab, and academic staff offices. 

The Jennifer Marie Wilson Strength and Conditioning Center more than doubles the size of the Lumberjacks’ weight training area to 11,500 square feet, while the Michael E. Nesbitt Athletic Training Center features three hydrotherapy recovery pools. NAU athletics programs are also partnering with the University’s College of Health and Human Services to conduct real-time research on student-athletes in the Sims-Treharne Collaborative Research Lab.

Mid-February the NAU Athletics Twitter account officially unveiled the new facility. In a Twitter video Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Mike Marlow gave a speech to every student-athlete about the purpose of the new building.

A major point Marlow made in his speech was that not a single coach or administrator will be moving into the new space. No new offices were made to house anyone other than student-athletes and those who directly support them; this includes academic support, medical trainers, strength and conditioning resources, and nutrition staff. 

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The idea of a new athletic facility has been one the university has been exploring for a long time. Back in 2018, NAU Athletics entered a feasibility study with Nations Group, a project management strategy group that has specialized in building athletic facilities across the country. While fairly vague results from the study were published, the findings were enough for NAU Athletics to move swiftly toward creating a new space.  

The timing of the new center’s opening is certainly not without thought or planning. NAU Football is on the cusp of starting its spring practice season where recruits and veteran players will use the building’s new digs and prepare for its spring game.