A red-tailed hawk soars northward across the Franklin & Marshall campus on a warm October afternoon, flying gracefully from Buchanan Park toward Harrisburg Avenue. It rises above the rooftops of College Row before circling the 28 acres of open fields that F&M will soon develop as its North Campus. Mike Wetzel, a key figure leading that development, looks skyward.
"Just look at that hawk. It's amazing. And there's his partner," says Wetzel, F&M's associate vice president for facilities management and campus planning, as another hawk joins the first one. "They're here all the time—they love this green space."
The hawks have had quite a view of the remarkable transformation the land has undergone over the past decade. Gone are the majestic brick buildings of Armstrong World Industries, a landmark in northwest Lancaster for most of the 20th century. Also absent is the Norfolk Southern rail yard, which has moved to a new location near the U.S. Post Office a mile to the west. In their places are green fields that will one day become a comprehensive athletics precinct, including Shadek Stadium, the new home for Diplomat football and lacrosse, slated to open in fall 2017.
It's all happening under the umbrella of the Northwest Gateway project, in which F&M has partnered with Lancaster General Health (LG Health), the City of Lancaster and Norfolk Southern to revitalize former brownfields and spur economic development. The project took off under the leadership of former F&M President John Fry and administrator Keith Orris '81, who marshaled the cooperation between the College and various public and private entities and for whom a pavilion is named on the former Armstrong site.
The partners reached a milestone in October with the opening of the Liberty Street extension, an 888-foot road connecting West Liberty Street and College Avenue. When it's complete, North Campus will represent the largest expansion of the F&M campus in more than 100 years. Nearby, LG Health will have expanded its own footprint by developing 20 acres. And northwest Lancaster will be transformed.
F&M's North Campus began to take shape more than two decades ago, when the College acquired land, north of Harrisburg Avenue, that used to house the Posey Iron Works. Alumni from the 1980s and early 1990s might remember the College's former ice rink in this area—and the larger-than-life likenesses of Benjamin Franklin and John Marshall on its windows.
The ice rink wasn't around long, as the College decided to build the multipurpose Alumni Sports & Fitness Center in its place. A few years prior to that, College Square rose along Harrisburg Avenue. But the larger transformation didn't begin until more than a decade later, when the Armstrong phase of the project began. The enormous buildings of the flooring plant came down in 2007 and 2008.
Russ Mitchell, senior vice president of global technology at Armstrong, began working at the plant in 1987. He calls the former sprawling complex "a city in a city."
"It's amazing how much was happening in those buildings," says Mitchell, an engineer who has been based in several locations in the U.S. and overseas during his 27-year career with Armstrong. "It was originally built as a linoleum factory, and they modified the plant over time. It was the mothership plant for Armstrong."
As Armstrong's business evolved from linoleum to prefinished flooring, it consolidated its Lancaster operations to nearby Dillerville Road after the turn of the century. That paved the way for the development of the Northwest Gateway project. Mitchell remembers watching the buildings come down methodically on a daily basis. "They chipped it apart a brick at a time," he says.
The rail yard remained for a few more years as the Norfolk Southern phase of the project took shape. In 2013, workers removed the tracks that previously extended from Dillerville Road to Harrisburg Avenue before performing environmental remediation. Then it was time for the steel pedestrian bridge to come down—a beloved structure to some in Lancaster, an eyesore to others, but one that allowed generations of Armstrong workers and members of the F&M community to safely cross the tracks.
"We hope to find a home for a portion of the bridge on North Campus," Wetzel says.
Diplomats Moving North
It might be difficult for fans of F&M football to envision the Diplomats playing anywhere but Sponaugle-Williamson Field, the team's home since 1920. Framed by large trees in a residential setting, the field is one of the classic settings in the Centennial Conference. But when the opportunity arose to consolidate all athletic facilities into one area at North Campus, the College moved ahead.
"The College is landlocked on the south side of Harrisburg Avenue, so here was ample opportunity to have space for athletics," says Wetzel, the North Campus project manager. "In the years to come, we anticipate that venues for other sports will follow."
Leading the effort to fund the stadium's construction is F&M football alumnus Larry Shadek '72, P’05, P’06, a College trustee since 1998, and the Shadek Family Foundation. His $5 million gift was the largest ever to F&M athletics (David Lehman '68, P'01 has since given $5 million to endow F&M wrestling).
"I'm behind it because football was important to me, but there are so many other things that this project entails that are important to the College," Shadek says.
A key aspect of the College's strategic plan is to enhance student life by creating, relocating and upgrading athletic venues and recreation spaces. Dean of the College Margaret Hazlett says the stadium is a significant step in that direction.
"For me, the stadium is a coming-together place," Hazlett says. "It's about community-building, it's about the spirit of Franklin & Marshall, it's about being a Diplomat. It's where all students on this campus can come together and show their pride in what it means to be part of this institution."
Shadek Stadium will have fixed seating for 2,500 spectators, a pro-turf lacrosse and football field, and lighted practice space. Pending completion of fundraising for the playing surface, it also will have the name of an F&M legend on its field: Tom Gilburg, the former head football coach who remains atop the College's football coaching wins list.
"Coach Gilburg was a great coach and mentor," says Trustee Matt DesChamps '93, who captained the Diplomats' 1992 team. "And like everyone at F&M, he demanded—and inspired—our best. This field will be a fitting tribute."
To learn more about Shadek Stadium and the campaign to fund it, please visit fandm.edu/stadium.