What’s one thing athletics, fitness and recreation facilities all have in common? Locker rooms. Regardless of the type of facility you work in, you can trust AB for insights on how best to design these essential amenities. Whether you’re looking for design inspiration or practical advice on maximizing privacy and comfort, we’ve got you covered with this month’s focus on locker rooms...

— AB Editors

How Marquette Designed its Lacrosse Team Locker Rooms

By Paul Steinbach

Prior to this past spring, Nick Grill would lug his lacrosse bag and stick the eight blocks from his residence to the Marquette University lacrosse offices — recently carved out of an existing campus building — where the stuff could be stored temporarily in a back room. On game day, a soccer locker room became the temporary home for Grill, his Golden Eagle teammates and their gear.

"When I got here that's all the team knew, so there were no bad thoughts about it. It was just something that we did," says Grill, a rising senior defenseman at Marquette. "We had great leadership when I got here that allowed us to just enjoy what we had. We had just gotten a new office space, and we felt fortunate enough for that, because it was a lot more than the guys previous to us had."

Among those previous guys was Grill's brother, B.J., who could — and did — tell stories of dressing for Marquette games in a portable storage container. "He made it known that I was lucky to have an office," Nick says. "He told me all about the fun times he had when it would be 20 degrees out and they'd be freezing their butts off in 'The Pod,' as it was infamously called."

To complement such lore for a program with a mere seven seasons under its belt, a photo of "The Pod" now hangs on the wall of Marquette's newly christened men's lacrosse locker room, which opened to the current roster March 4. It's a reminder of how far the program has come since making its 2013 Division I debut.

By 2016, B.J.'s senior season, the Golden Eagles garnered the Big East tournament championship and the automatic NCAA tournament bid that came with it. The 2017 team then repeated the feat. As the program gained national attention — and fast — a facility for the team had to be fast-tracked.

Change in plans

The original vision was for a larger project including a field house for multiple sports, but that likely would have taken five years to complete. Instead, the Athletic and Human Performance Research Center — which includes locker rooms and practice spaces for men's and women's lacrosse and men's golf, as well as strength and conditioning areas for all of MU's Olympic sports (but no field house) — was built in less than two.

"We did the athletic master plan for them back in 2008, and they were at that time just positioning to bring on men's and women's lacrosse. They knew that they didn't have the facilities but were committed to just getting the programs up and running and then sort of working through their master plan at a reasonable pace," says Lindsey Peckinpaugh, a principal architect in the Chicago office of Perkins+Will. "Well, what happened was the men's team in particular was just wildly successful very quickly. They started winning Big East championships, and I think that frankly the athletic department just felt pressure to give them facilities commensurate with their performance."

"The men's team in particular was just wildly successful very quickly. They started winning Big East championships, and I think that frankly the athletic department just felt pressure to give them facilities commensurate with their performance."

In lieu of the field house component, an existing turf field on campus was domed with an air-supported structure during winter months. "That was so successful for them that it really changed their vision of what the AHPRC could be, and they decided that they no longer wanted to pursue that indoor field house component," Peckinpaugh says. "So the question and the mission really became, 'How do we get these kids locker rooms and training facilities as quickly as we can in phase one of the building?' If we were to try to do it all in one fell swoop, I think we'd still be waiting."

A Sense of Tradition

As Marquette's vice president for planning and facilities management, Lora Strigens leads every campus construction project, as she puts it, "from concept to ribbon cutting." To prepare herself for the locker room portion of the AHPRC project, she traveled with the men's team to view opponents' facilities, relied on the experience and input of MU's head coach, and conducted online benchmarking. "We spent a lot of time picking all the furniture and identifying the branding," she says, "and I feel like we got the perfect mix that met all of our needs."

First and foremost, Marquette got a space capable of accommodating more than 50 players and their equipment at once. "These are large rosters, the student-athletes are together a lot, and building community is really important," Strigens says. "The locker room space checks all the boxes for functional things that you need to have in a locker room space, but it also provides space for them to relax and spend time together."

Each locker has a drawer for shoes and a space for each player's helmet and travel bag, but a separate room was designated for stick storage in the interest of sparing each unit's custom-milled cabinetry from stick-inflicted damage. The deep, rich wood of the lockers "gives you the sense that the space has some tradition to it," Peckinpaugh says.

Lockers are mechanically exhausted through rear vents, and each includes the modern must-have of a phone-charging outlet. However, the decision was made to eschew an actual locking function on the lockers. Says Peckinpaugh, "We talked about being able to close them off, and they thought, 'No, we're a team and this is the space that we live in. If you have people stealing your stuff out of a locker then you have a bigger core problem with your team.' They're just really principled in some of those aspects."

The livable nature of the space is further enhanced by the specification of loose chairs over built-in locker seating, allowing the room to be temporarily reconfigured, if desired, as players comingle or receive coaching instruction (large-screen TVs facilitate film review, movie viewing and gaming). Likewise, couches placed in the center of the room — a "very intentional" choice over a separate player lounge, according to Peckinpaugh — are durable but lightweight enough to be easily moved.

Wet areas likewise reflect the high-quality approach, with the tiled shower room featuring 12 individual shower stalls.

Branding of the AHPRC, handled by Experience 49, known for much more lavish projects such as the University of Alabama's football facilities, is elegant in its simplicity and focus. Three-dimensional backlit "Marquette Lacrosse" wall art announces the locker room's entrance, and once inside, each locker is topped by an action photo of its occupant superimposed with his name, jersey number and hometown. The nameplates are designed to be easily removed and taken by departing seniors as a keepsake.

Gobsmacked and Grateful

Like his older brother, Grill came all the way from Bridgewater, N.J., to chase his Division I lacrosse dreams in Milwaukee. He likes being reminded of that fact. "The action shot takes me back to my freshman year, and I remember that game, and it lets me see where I'm from — to understand where I'm coming from and understand that I've worked toward this space, this locker, and it's all really humbling and really awesome to have. It really is."

Grill was sick March 4, the day the locker room was revealed to the rest of the team, and he was adamant that he not hear or see anything about it until he could experience the space in person. Meanwhile, Marquette posted video to YouTube. "You see these kids coming in, pointing to their faces up above the lockers, and they're just gobsmacked," Peckinpaugh says. "It's really cool."

The players then pulled on white T-shirts over their street clothes. On the front, appearing above an illustration of "The Pod," is the sentiment, "Never forget where you came from." On the back, a singular word: "Grateful."

"They have this humility about them," Peckinpaugh says of MU players and coaches. "A lot of programs that we encounter, they so want the latest, splashiest, biggest and best — more square footage and all of these bells and whistles — and that is just not the mentality that the coaches for the AHPRC had. The players and the coaches for lacrosse, as well as golf, were so grateful to be getting anything that they were just really focused on how to create space where the teams can be together. It wasn't about the flash."

According to Strigens, it's more about Marquette's Jesuit mindset of cura personalis, or "caring for the whole person." "Individual branding on the lockers is just a way to reinforce to students that we care about them, we care about where they came from, we care about them as individuals as well as parts of the team," she says.

There's no telling where Marquette lacrosse goes from here, but the new locker rooms no doubt will help unlock the program's potential. "The reality is that perspective students and families look at facilities and they look at what you have to offer in terms of supporting the development of the student, and in this case the student-athlete," Strigens says. "And certainly when you have the facilities that match what the program walks and talks, that's a benefit in recruiting."

Grill agrees. "One-hundred percent. If players are looking for facilities, I think we are now right up there with the best schools."

"If players are looking for facilities, I think we are now right up there with the best schools."

As for finally experiencing the space himself? "So the next day, we had a team meeting down there and I walked in and I was blown away," Grill says. "To have the athletic department support us like this is unbelievable.

"The locker room gives us a space to put 50 guys, for all of us to be together at once. It's a place to unwind during the school day, after practice, after lifts. We can just go there, be with each other, enjoy each other and just relax a little bit. We didn't have that before, and I think that's something that's really important to have." This article appears in the July | August 2019 issue of Athletic Business under the headline, "How Marquette Designed its Lacrosse Team Locker Rooms to Match Its Lacrosse Success"

Quality Locker Line

Facilities and amenities are at the forefront of athletics and athletes spend a lot of time in the locker room. List Industries Inc. recognizes the need for top quality product and design. Manufacturing the finest lockers for over 80 years, List Industries' customer satisfaction and product quality have remained at the heart of our professional foundation. We offer the largest selection of locker styles, sizes, and colors in metal, wood, phenolic, and plastic, designed to serve the needs of any facility from health and sports clubs to schools and universities to professional sports arenas and stadiums.

Designing Public Locker Rooms with an Eye on Privacy

On March 23, 2016, North Carolina governor Pat McRory signed into law the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, making his state the first in the nation to mandate that designated restrooms and locker rooms in government buildings (including those on public school and university campuses) be used by individuals based on the gender indicated on their birth certificate. Over the previous year, five additional states — Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin — had considered similar legislation to no effect (so far), and a so-called "bathroom bill" in Arizona circled the drain way back in 2013.

How Modern Locker Rooms Are Being Redesigned

Search "Vince Lombardi" and "Locker Room" on Google, and you'll find photos of one of the NFL's most storied coaches sitting on a metal folding chair in an otherwise non-descript concrete room. Behind the players Lombardi is addressing, cleats, helmets and street clothes are stuffed into metal cubbies. The locker room, even at the professional level, was an afterthought in the 1950s and 60s, a place where athletes changed into their uniforms and maybe got a halftime pep talk from the coach. Other than that, business was taken care of on the field.

Key Drivers of Campus Locker Room Renovations

The locker room component of an athletic facility is very different than from a recreational facility. The user expectation is different, and thus the design goals are different. AB recently asked our fitness and recreation audiences about their locker rooms, and here's what we found is driving renovations in campus recreation today.

Sharing Can Optimize Team Locker Room Space

The rise of dedicated competition and practice facilities for individual Division I and II intercollegiate sports has made the design of team locker rooms more straightforward. Not simple, as there are many ways to design a single-sport team locker room even when the designer knows both the precise number of athletes in the space and exactly how they will use it. But single-sport locker rooms are certainly less complex than designing ones for multiple sports, teams and occupants that inhabit the same venue, which complicates planning and normally necessitates boosting considerably the amount of space devoted to team locker rooms.

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