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Copyright 2017 Spokane Spokesman-Review

Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA)


Eastern Washington University has taken the first steps in exploring the feasibility of improving the school's athletic facilities.

Responding to an inquiry from The Spokesman-Review, EWU President Mary Cullinan said in a statement this week that the university has hired an outside consultant "to assess the university's fundraising capacity and help plan a comprehensive campaign that will include fundraising for the university's athletics facilities."

The Phoenix Philanthropy Group of Arizona, described by Cullinan as "nationally recognized experts in university development and fundraising," will be represented in Cheney by senior consultant Peter Smits, a vice president emeritus at Fresno State.

The announcement comes at a crucial time for football and men's basketball. Both teams have new coaches who've never led a collegiate program, while football fans have been chafing for years over the lack of significant upgrades to 50-year-old Roos Field.

Meanwhile, two of Eastern's biggest football rivals are making significant strides off the field.

Montana State is nearing completion of an athletics facilities master plan that's expected to include indoor practice facilities and renovations to the east grandstands at 17,777-seat Bobcat Stadium.

At Montana, construction is moving briskly on the Washington-Grizzly Champions Center, a 51,000-square-foot complex that will house a new weight room, locker room and other amenities.

Top-flight facilities are a major boon to recruiting, and in turn, success on the field. Eastern bucked that trend under former coach Beau Baldwin, who won four Big Sky Conference titles in his last five years in Cheney.

The Eagles also own a five-game winning streak against MSU and have taken five of the last six against Montana, but the uphill battle in recruiting figures to get steeper when regional foe Idaho joins the Big Sky.

Last fall, before a practice at Roos Field, several Eastern assistant coaches expressed their concerns over the addition of another better-funded school.

"How are we going to compete with Idaho with facilities like this?" asked one coach, pointing to the high-schoolish visiting-side bleachers.

Five years ago, Eastern announced plans for the Gateway Project, a multiuse facility that failed to get off the ground for lack of donors.

Four years later, Cullinan gave athletic director Bill Chaves an open-ended directive to "explore options" regarding improvements to Roos Field.

However, since taking office in 2014, Cullinan has offered no comments either for or against any improvements or renovations. Neither has the Board of Regents, the university's governing body.

Smits will begin work on May 30. An assessment phase is expected to last four months and will include interviews with more than 30 people on campus. The second phase, implementation of recommendations from the assessment will take eight months.

Eastern's contract with Phoenix calls for a total payment of $124,000.

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