Centre College will reprise its role as the smallest school to host a vice presidential debate in October, but additions to the campus over the last 12 years will be vital to both staging the event and accommodating an increasing enrollment.
Preparations for the debate are in full swing at the school that likes to tout its reputation for punching above its weight, but some of the work that helped secure the event for the second time includes permanent additions to the campus.
As construction projects ground to a halt during the recession, Centre rode its own building boom, spending about $100,000,000 on new projects and renovations since 2005. None of those facilities, though, were more important to securing another debate than Sutcliffe Hall, the site of the media hub for the event, as well as the actual backdrop for the meeting between the candidates, the Norton Center.
In 2005, Sutcliffe, along with Crounse Hall, which houses the Grace Doherty Library, underwent $25 million in renovations. The Norton Center got $3 million worth of improvements the same year.
Richard Trollinger, vice president for college relations and head of the debate steering committee in 2000 and 2012, said Sutcliffe in particular has surpassed any realistic expectations already.
"In my 18 years at Centre, Sutcliffe is one of the things I have to pinch myself about because it is hard to believe it is really ours," Trollinger said.
In 2000, Sutcliffe was aging and difficult to keep cool with throngs of media members and politicos packed in the building. It's proximity to the debate stage was advantageous, but space required both the media filing center and what's known as "spin alley," where political operatives come after the debate to convince the nation their candidate was victorious, to co-exist inside Alumni Gymnasium where the basketball team competes.
The renovation doubled the size of the overall facility to about 80,000 feet and added a multipurpose gym, walking track, classroom space, office suites for coaches, the Buck Fitness Center, racquetball courts and a cafe. A new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system was included
This year the media filing center will be located in the 15,000-square-foot Hazelrigg Gym, while Alumni Gym will accommodate spin alley.
Centre had hoped to secure one of the debates during the 2008 election cycle. While the college wasn't chosen, Trollinger said the new digs made a lasting impression when he and some other officials gave a tour for longtime debate producer Marty Slutsky.
"Marty has been doing this a long time and he told us that if he were designing a media filing center that could be used as a gymnasium and student recreation facility when a debate wasn't being held, it would be [Sutcliffe]."
While the many conspicuous additions to the campus have drawn attention, Wayne King and his crew hope they can accomplish the same feat they were praised for in 2000: don't get noticed.
King, the director of facilities, was charged with building an entire temporary air conditioning system for Sutcliffe during the last debate. The job required bringing in two 150-ton chillers to pipe cool air through a building that had to be kept around 65 degrees at all times.
King was also asked to build two sound-proof rooms for the campaigns in the ballroom off of Alumni Gym only hours before the 2000 debate.
"It's going to make things a lot easier," King said of Sutcliffe. "Everything in this building is located ideally for what we are doing. You have a nice big space (in Hazelrigg Gym) and now trucks can come to the first floor to load and unload directly."
At King's behest, Sutcliffe and some of the other buildings were constructed with staging big events in mind. There will be no need to add extra power generators to the building for this year's debate because of increased amperage and numerous additional outlets.
Director of Communications Michael Strysick will be in charge of the media center, which is expected to serve as a base of operations for many of what will be thousands of credentialed journalists.
Although it is the smallest school to host a debate, Strysick said in Sutcliffe the college now has a complex for hosting media and related activities that rivals many of its larger counterparts. He compared this to the fact that Ole Miss, a large land grant institution, had to host media in tents when they hosted their presidential debate.
The Norton Center has also received some attention, including new windows, seats in Newlin Hall and a fire alarm system that will be in place by the debate. New air conditioning will also help King and his staff with their directive to keep the temperature at 62 degrees exactly, lest one of the candidates repeat Richard Nixon's now infamous flop sweating appearance during the 1960 debate against John F. Kennedy.
"A lot of the infrastructure, you can't look at it or take a picture of it but it is so important to what we have to do," Strysick said.