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RMU to complete purchace of Island Sports Complex

| Friday, Aug. 29, 2003

Robert Morris University will finalize the purchase today of the Island Sports Complex at Neville Island and keep it open to the public, school officials announced Thursday.

The school paid "about $10 million" for the center, RMU president Edward Nicholson said. The 32-acre complex built by The Hillman Co. houses four rinks, a sports dome and has fields for softball and other sports.

With the purchase of the complex, RMU will add five new Division I teams by the 2004-05 season -- men's and women's ice hockey, women's field hockey and men's and women's lacrosse. The school also will build an eight-lane track at the site.

RMU's ice hockey team will be the only Division I team in the area. The closest is Mercyhurst College in Erie.

Students will have access to the facility for free or with discounts and can hop on a shuttle to ride the four miles from the Moon Township campus.

The center will remain open to the public and existing programs will continue, Nicholson said. The university also plans to add more community events.

He also said the Penguins are interested in moving their practice facility to the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center.

"We've talked to Lemieux group. We're interested if they are," he said.

Dave Hanson, general manager of the center, said Lemieux often works out at the facility with trainer Jay Caufield and that Mario's children skate there.

The Penguins still have one year left on their deal at Southpointe.

"After that (contract expires), we'll have to make a decision," said Tom McMillan, director of communications for the Penguins.

Both Hanson and McMillan acknowledged that if the Penguins did move to Neville Island, a separate locker room and offices would have to be included.

Despite the hype, not everyone is excited with the university's purchase.

RMU faculty members have questioned the wisdom of spending millions on athletics at a time when many schools are cutting the same programs. Faculty members have been wearing buttons with "EQ" -- educational quality -- to voice their dissent.

"The consensus among the faculty is that educational quality is being compromised for athletics and sports arenas," said Glenn Thiel, president of the RMU Faculty Federation. "I'm for education first. If they were putting enough into education, then fine, but they're not. I consider the faculty the most important part of the educational process."

RMU and its faculty are in the midst of contract negotiations.

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