Nielsen Field House rededicated

Nielsen Field House rededicated

By Andrew Creasey /

The Nielsen Field House has seen it all.

It was conceived when the University of Northern Iowa was still the Iowa State Teachers College, constructed a decade later, survived a fire that nearly razed the building and now houses two critical UNI programs.

The historic building was rededicated last month in a ceremony that featured Sen. Chuck Grassley, a performance by the Panther Marching Band and a celebration of the value of the two programs that call the field house home - UNI’s Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and Child Development Center.

“It's exciting to be here with you today and to rededicate this facility,” said UNI President Mark A. Nook at the Sept. 17 event. “The facility today is a state-of-the-art training facility for ROTC cadets and a state-of-the-art learning center for young children.”

Nook then introduced Grassley, who attended UNI from 1951 to 1956.

“Both the ROTC and the Child Development Center make a fine fit in this building as a crucial part of the UNI community,” Grassley said. “Each program on its own eliminates barriers that may be impeding students from receiving an education and opens doors to opportunities that may have otherwise not existed for these young people.”

After the opening remarks, the ceremony turned to the ROTC, highlighting the program’s unique impact on its students and the benefits of its facility in the field house. The speakers included the head of the Department of Military Science Lt. Col. Dean Ray, ROTC Alumni Brigadier Gen. Steven J. Kremer and ROTC Brigade Col. Adam Lewis.

“The rededication of this building is a major milestone for the UNI ROTC battalion,” said Brenda Bass, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “UNI and the ROTC have a shared vision of training the next generation of leaders to serve their communities. The renovated field house provides a training facility that will better prepare our students for their future leadership positions.”

The Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) started as a UNI extension program in 1981. Six years later it was granted host status and a UNI Panther battalion was established, eventually settling at the Nielsen Field House. The ROTC is a group of college and university-based training programs that prepare and commission U.S. Armed Forces officers.

The list of speakers who touted the benefits of ROTC was punctuated by ROTC Cadet and current UNI student Nicole Miller, who entered the program during her junior year. Prior to that, she had run out of money pursuing a biology degree and decided to join the Iowa National Guard to help accomplish her goals. After a six-month break from school serving as a medic, she returned to UNI on a two-year scholarship from the ROTC.

“(Through the ROTC), I learned so much more than I could have ever imagined about myself, my strengths and my weaknesses,” Miller said. “And I spent countless hours preparing for admissions and studying. I learned how to lead through epic failures, but also memorable successes. And I made some of the best friends along the way.”

In Fall 2020, the Nielsen Field House was expanded to provide more space for the growing ROTC program and the Department of Military Science. Renovations include new offices, classrooms, a lounge and meeting spaces for the department. The gymnasium has also been transformed, now featuring a fully equipped new weight room dedicated to ROTC.

Following a performance by the Panther Marching Band, the ceremony turned to the Child Development Center (CDC). Founded in 1970 to provide childcare for students attending classes, the CDC found a permanent home in the Nielsen Field House in 1992. 

Today, the UNI CDC provides children with high-quality teaching and care while helping train students who will become tomorrow’s educators. The center provides professionally supervised experiences for pre-service teachers as well as students from programs such as speech and language, physical education, literacy, and psychology. 

“The Nielsen Field House has been home to the UNI Child Development Center for decades and continues to provide meaningful space for our littlest Panthers,” said Colleen Mulholland, dean of the College of Education. “We look forward to continuing the important work of learning, growing, playing, and thriving in this historic space.”  

Accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) with Iowa’s highest marks, the CDC is a full-time program licensed to serve 92 children.

“All our young children play, learn, grow and thrive in an inviting physical space dedicated to ensuring they reach their full potential,” Mulholland said. “The learning environment empowers students and supports positive interaction. We are proud to offer this learning space and physical environment to our CDC children and their families.” 

The history of the building traces back to 1945,  when the Iowa State Teachers College (now UNI) anticipated the need for building a new laboratory school. Plans included a two-story building with two wings joined at a central station, which would feature educational laboratories and physical education facilities.

The Board of Regents soon approved the construction of Price Laboratory School, named in honor of Malcolm Price, UNI president from 1940-1950. An elementary school wing opened in 1950 and the high school wing was completed in 1956. 

The field house was built last, opening by 1958 at a cost of $2.5 million. Thirty years later, the building was renamed after Ross A. Nielsen, the longtime Price Laboratory School director who had retired two years prior. Nielsen spent the last 24 years of his nearly 40-year career in UNI’s teaching department as the school’s director.  

On June 8, 1993, a fire destroyed most of the Nielsen Field House. It took two years to rebuild the structure, which was rededicated on January 12, 1996.