NEW ULM - For the past 43 years, the locker rooms in the Martin Luther College gymnasium were dominated by a mixture of metal and concrete.
After two months of extensive renovations to the locker room facilities this summer, you won't find much of either anymore.
It became apparent to the MLC athletic department over the past five years that the locker rooms were quickly becoming outdated and were due for an overhaul. When given the green light on the project this summer, Athletic Director Jim Unke knew that there was no sense in holding back on the renovations.
Staff photo by Daniel Kerwin
A view of the renovations to the men’s locker room in the Martin Luther College gymnasium.
"We had one shot at doing it, so our goal was to do it right," Unke said. "I think our kids are going to be impressed, it's nice to be able to give the kids something to show them that they're not in high school anymore."
In place of the old metal lockers are lockers of polished wood, with MLC's official Knight's head logo burned into a compact lock box in the top-left corner. Instead of bare concrete on the floors and ceiling, the locker rooms now feature attractive carpeting and a lowered ceiling made up of bright-white panels.
The walls in the men's locker room are painted in a clean white with a giant Knight's head painted in one corner. Parts of the walls of the women's locker room feature a beautiful wooden finish.
"The final result is very professional, I think it's a pretty cool facility for a Division III school," Unke said. "It looked like a basement locker room, and now it looks like a country club setting. It's a great improvement."
Although the finished product is enough to rival the locker rooms at a number of much larger National Collegiate Athletic Association programs, MLC took steps to keep the costs down and make sure it came as close as possible to matching its budget.
The project began with MLC students ripping out the old lockers, after which Ericksen Construction came in and began the transformation. When it came time to install the lockers, the college had some of the coaches volunteer to help out to keep costs down.
"We got our lockers from a supplier in Ohio, and when they came our grounds crew unloaded them and our coaching staff installed them," Unke said. "Then Ericksen came in and did some finish work on them."
In addition to the vast visual improvement, the renovations also included some practical upgrades to bring the locker rooms to almost an ultra-modern level.
There were particularly significant upgrades in terms of technology thanks to the work of Full Service Electric. In addition to the entire locker room area now operating on motion-sensor lighting, the latest computer technology was installed, allowing coaches to bring laptops into the locker rooms to go over film.
Although there didn't used to be a practical meeting room in the women's facilities beforehand, one end of the women's locker room has been transformed for this purpose, with a white board and high-definition TV that can be easily used during games.
"The technology of it is also with an eye to the future - while we have remodeled from the past, we've also looked to the future in the needs that will be coming for our coaches," Unke said.
An added benefit of the renovated locker rooms is that it should be much easier for the college to get prospective student athletes excited about the possibility of becoming a Knight.
"It's part now of our recruiting tours, when visiting kids come to campus we can show them our locker rooms," Unke said. "Before, we used to avoid it like the plague. It now becomes a showpiece for our coaches when they're giving tours to prospective student athletes."
Although athletics may not be something that MLC is better known for in the wider community, the emphasis on creating a top-notch locker area is something that will be greatly appreciated by the student athletes as they participate in a highly-competitive NCAA Division III atmosphere, creating an environment that will help to fuel their competitive fire.
"It also I think sends a message to our kids that, while we exist for the academic purpose, we're definitely a Division III school," Unke said. "The extra effort is recognized. We want to give the kids something nice, and I know that they're going to take care of it and appreciate it. They're going to feel like a college athlete."