Western Michigan upgrades locker rooms
Correction: Photos for this project were incorrectly attributed in the April edition. GearBoss by Wenger renovated the WMU locker rooms and submitted all photos.
Locker rooms are not often thought of as an essential part of an athletic program, but that perception has changed over the years.Facilities are being built bigger and more extravagant than ever before, and while impressing athletes plays a role it’s also a question of function. Schools wants their facilities safe and accommodating to all who use them, and that means a different way of thinking when athletic directors address everything from storage rooms to multi-million dollar stadiums.
Western Michigan University is among dozens of schools across the nation that made significant changes to one of its locker rooms last year. It wasn’t all about the facility’s condition, but rather making it more practical for athletes and coaches.
“The main reason why this was done is our old locker room was cut off into three sections and there were these alleyways where you were cut off from your teammates when you were in the locker room,” said Taylor Jorgensen, the university’s football equipment coordinator. “Coach wanted to open it up and we kind of did a horseshoe with the alley in between, so nothing is cut off anymore.”
Jorgensen admits the old locker room was aging. Hinges on the main storage spaces were jammed and the locks didn’t work. The wood had “seen better days,” so the program knew it would have to make some changes.
Construction started in the winter of 2014 and lasted into training camp. The football team is the only team to use the new locker room.
Western Michigan went with GearBoss to do the work, the same company it may turn to in renovating some of the university’s other locker rooms. Jorgensen said the results were impressive.
The university added racks and fans for drying shoulder pads, something that’s increasingly valued these days with concerns over diseases or bacteria commonly found in athletic facilities. Each locker is equipped with data outlets — two USB ports — that allow players to plug in their tablets or phones, and they also have cushioned seats.
Jorgensen said each locker has its own cubby that requires a key-coded combination to access. That allows football players to keep their belongings safe.
Another section of the locker room has couches in front of three 70-inch TVs. It’s an area coaches can use to address the team or athletes can kick back and play Xbox or Playstation after practice. There’s even a ping pong table, so the locker room has evolved into a hangout area where athletes can socialize with their teammates.
“Guys don’t leave there,” Jorgensen said. “They love it, and there’s state-of-the-art surround sound and they’ll play music on that.”
Locker room design is becoming increasingly important. As reports of hazing were made public at a number of high schools and colleges, athletic programs started to becoming more aware of flaws in supervision. Locker rooms with alleys and blind spots can make it difficult for coaches to observe dozens of teammates, so schools are beginning to examine ways to address the problem.
That’s not the case at Western Michigan, Jorgensen said. When coaches gave pregame speeches or addressed the group as a whole, the layout made it nearly impossible for that to take place in the locker room. That, combined with the facility’s condition, is why a change needed to be made.
There’s also the issue of ventilation and storage. Jorgensen wanted drying racks for helmets and shoulder pads that would prevent odor, and he also wanted hooks where he could hang equipment to make the facility more aesthetically pleasing.
Jorgensen said at each locker the bench seats open to allow storage for shoes. Exhaust fans help maintain cleanliness and diminish the risk of bacteria.
“It’s just a lot more user friendly on game days,” Jorgensen said. “You have access to everything and it looks really nice.”
Clean up after games or practices is also streamlined, which can be difficult in states like Michigan where snow is tracked into facilities during the football season. The new exhaust fans are able to dry out the locker room in a hurry, and outside of bacterial wipes and sprays, Jorgensen said there isn’t much to keeping the facility safe for players.
The design also encourages players to keep their lockers tidy.
“Just having those open vents without shut doors, it promotes an honor system within the team,” Jorgensen said. “It helped to cut back on clutter and held guys accountable.”
The project was a relatively smooth process that didn’t come with a lot of the hiccups or roadblocks that other major renovations often encounter. Communication was essential in making sure everyone received exactly what they were looking for, and that’s something Jorgensen wants to remind others who might be planning a similar athletics project.
Athletic directors or other project leaders might be inclined to consult with just a few people in their department before moving forward on a renovation, but it’s critical that input is sought from those who will access the facility most. They’re the ones capable of identify problems or opportunities to improve functionality and ease of use.
“Having many people give input is helpful,” Jorgensen said. “I was fortunate to be asked what I would like to see. A lot of times equipment managers don’t get to voice their opinions even though they work most closely with the facilities.”