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Northwestern set to announce new athletic complex

Updated: January 31, 2013 6:52AM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A project Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has described as a “game-changer” for the football program could break ground much sooner than expected.

The Sun-Times learned the university has received $55 million in donations for an athletic and recreational complex to be located near Lake Michigan on the north end of the Evanston campus. The donations have far exceeded expectations for a project expected to cost $220 million.

An announcement from the school is imminent, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The timetable for the completion of the project depends on how quickly the money is raised. But several donors already have come forward, including Patrick and Shirley Ryan. Ryan Field and Welsh-Ryan Arena already bear their name, and the new complex’s fieldhouse is expected to, as well.

This is exciting news for a football program that will try to win its 10th game in a season for the first time since 1995 when it faces Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day. A victory would be the program’s first postseason win since 1949.

The new complex is expected to help bridge the facilities gap with Big Ten rivals and could be a major boost for recruiting.

Earlier Saturday, before it was learned an announcement was forthcoming, Fitzgerald lauded school president Morton Schapiro, athletic director Jim Phillips and the board of trustees for their support.

“We’ve had to coach them,” he said. “We’ve had to recruit them. We’ve had to bring in quality young men who fit the program and develop them and go out and build the chemistry and put the work in. But to me, what has changed … is [they have given] us two fists in the fight. As a coach, that’s all you want. Then it’s up to you. That’s exciting.”

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