What had been an aging gym and football field at an Arlington Heights alternative high school has been transformed into a mecca for a growing private university's athletic programs.
Robert Morris University embarked this year on an $11.5 million athletic facilities improvement project at the Arlington Heights campus it shares with Forest View Alternative School at 2123 S. Goebbert Road.
Student-athletes from Robert Morris campuses throughout Chicago and the suburbs have been coming to Arlington Heights to play and practice at Forest View for the past three years after the university signed a lease with Northwest Suburban High School District 214.
The newly turfed football field has been in use by students since August, and on Friday, the university formally unveiled the latest improvements inside the old gym -- what is being now being called the athletic convocation center -- during a pep rally for the school's 55 athletic teams.
And the students got a major inspirational boost from football and baseball legend Bo Jackson, who spoke to them about the importance of supporting each other and representing themselves, their team, and school.
The refurbished gym includes new stadium seats with armrests and cushions after the old high school bleachers were removed; a new gym floor; and an indoor track. The football field now includes a press box, and a new building nearby houses locker rooms and athletic offices.
University President Michael Viollt said the school leases athletic facilities in 18 communities throughout the state, but the Arlington Heights facility has quickly "risen to the top" as the best site for Robert Morris students.
"Besides Division I schools, I've heard from other university presidents that no one has as nice of an athletic facility," Viollt said.
Robert Morris' football team, women's and men's soccer teams, and women's volleyball team are scheduled to play at the facility on Saturday as part of homecoming weekend.
Athletics were introduced at Robert Morris in 1995, and ever since, Viollt said the school's mission has been to get as many students involved as possible.
"We do it from a different approach," he said. "We're not chasing championships. We're looking for participation."
And he said that means it takes several facilities to accommodate all of the school's teams, composed of students from 10 campuses.
Viollt said he and District 214 Superintendent David Schuler shared a vision for the gym and football field improvements at the district facility, which was Forest View High School from 1962 to 1986.
Robert Morris has a long-term lease that allows the school to use the athletic areas and about 10 percent of the classrooms. Others, including St. Viator High School, also use the football field.
Now Viollt says he plans to talk with district officials about expanding Robert Morris' academic offerings on the Arlington Heights campus. His wish list includes adding a library, technology center, high-tech graduate school seminar classrooms, and simulation labs for health studies students.
The school currently hosts evening adult education classes at the Arlington Heights campus.
"I'm very thankful to the superintendent, school board and community for welcoming us," Viollt said.