In the foothills of the southern Colorado Rockies, the sun shines more than 300 days a year. Stand on the deck attached to the Ed Robson Arena, currently in construction, and you’ll meet the gaze of Pike’s Peak in the distance. Here in Colorado Springs, the Olympic city, a state-of-the-art, Division 1-caliber ice arena is under construction at the center of Colorado College’s (CC) campus. The facility’s multimillion-dollar footprint will also include student support services, multipurpose classrooms, a bookstore, a restaurant, and a deli: an impressive feat for a small liberal arts college.
Colorado College is an NCAA Division 3 institution with two Division 1 programs, one of only ten in the country structured as such. For that reason, the four-block arena will transform the school’s athletic identity and reshape the student experience on campus.
“It’s highly unique,” says Lesley Irvine, the college’s vice president and director of athletics. “We see it as a transformational opportunity.”
Irvine inherited the project when she came on board in June 2019. “It was a once-in-a-career opportunity for me to oversee a project such as this,” she reflects, “and, quite frankly, I just wanted to be a part of it.”
Irvine’s journey begins in the United Kingdom, where, as a kid, her parents encouraged her to pursue what she was most passionate about. With natural athletic talent paired with a passion for sports, she knew early on she not only wanted to play but forge a career in the industry.
She got a taste for the American athletic climate on a student exchange program in Maine coaching tennis. “If you grow up here, you may take for granted the culture around sports,” she says. “It matters to people here.”
When she returned to the US to play Division 1 field hockey at the University of Iowa, she put down roots in the country. She completed her master’s at Iowa, then seized the opportunity to coach at Stanford University, where after two years she became the youngest head coach at the Division 1 level. Her career would take her from Bowling Green State in the Mid-American Conference to Pomona College on the West Coast and eventually to the colorful state of Colorado.
“As I’ve taken my steps,” Irvine reflects, “I’ve had this yearning to impact as many as I can through the vehicle of sport.”
As both an athlete and an administrator, she’s always been guided by a central philosophy: athletic platforms ought to serve the educational mission of the institution. And at Colorado College, the Ed Robson Arena will do just that.
At the Division 3 level, a facility of this nature will be transformative, its impact exponential. “It will be the first time our hockey team will play on campus,” Irvine says with excitement. “This is an opportunity to welcome our team to campus and better integrate them—let alone the other benefits of having a building like this.”
It’s more than an ice arena. The facility will renovate the student experience by building community, providing a sense of place, and hosting events to attend on Friday or Saturday evenings. Having a space to gather will certainly boost campus pride for athletes, students, and staff alike.
The arena will serve Colorado College in many ways and Irvine will ensure the facility is an inclusive space for all students. “The moment those doors open, athletics will become intensely visible,” she says, “[and] I want everybody to know that they will have access.”
Green-lighting the building was a success for the many players involved. The project began with a lead donor and some designs on the back of a napkin. Later, when the city got involved, the facility started to take shape. “The project allowed Colorado College to work closely with the city,” Irvine explains. “About $9 million of the project was funded through the City of Champions Initiative.”
This initiative launched the construction of several buildings that reflect Colorado Springs’ identity as the Olympic City—including the Olympic Museum, the Switchback Stadium, and the Ed Robson Arena. In that vein, the arena’s impact will go beyond Colorado College’s student body; the building will be part of the neighborhood. “I meet fans who have followed CC Tigers for generations,” Irvine says. “It’s our opportunity to capture people who may not have come to campus before.”
As a leader, Irvine is optimistic, competitive, and passionate. She makes herself accessible. Whether she’s out in the field with athletes or at the meeting table with her administrative team, she does not settle for anything but the extraordinary. For her, it’s not the winning that matters; it’s about aspiring to win.
“I’ve always felt that athletics provide some of the most essential life lessons,” she says, “[and] it’s exciting to have the tools to build this extraordinary student athlete experience.”
With the pending ribbon-cutting on the horizon, Irvine is energized to bring this transformative building to life.