Hinkle renovations on pace for season opener

MATTHEW VANTRYON | SPORTS EDITOR

Ken LaRose has taken many individuals through Hinkle Fieldhouse over the past several months. The associate athletic director of development said one recurring question is always asked, and his answer remains consistent.

“I’ve given (around) 100 personal tours, and every one of them has said, ‘Ken, are you going to have this done on time?,’” LaRose said. “My answer has been ‘yes.’”Hinkle

Butler President James Danko announced in May 2013 the Board of Trustees approved a $34-million renovation project to the fieldhouse, according to a Sept. 4, 2013, Collegian article titled “Hinkle facelift underway.”

The renovations were slated to be finished in time for the opening exhibition of the men’s basketball season on Nov. 1. However, as of early September, the fieldhouse is in a state which LaRose says looks like a “war zone.”

“The hallways are being reconstructed, the seating is being reconstructed, the scoreboard is being reconstructed,” LaRose said. “If you look at it now, the vast majority of people are going to look at it and say, ‘Good Lord, is this going to be finished on time?’”

Nonetheless, he is pleased with the ways things are progressing, and said he has confidence things will finish as planned.

“I have no doubt they are going to get things done, whether it means working around the clock when it gets closer or whatever,” LaRose said. “We’ve got every confidence that things will be ready to go.”

While the main renovations fans will see include a new video scoreboard and more chair-back seats, Rich Michal, executive director of facilities, said some of the most impactful changes will go unnoticed by fans.

“We focused on the pool building, building the weight room and academic center and the trainers room, the new administrative offices,” Michal said. “That allowed us to do new spaces for women’s basketball, men’s basketball, women’s volleyball and upgrade the restrooms and the concessions stands.”

The space that held the natatorium until 2002, and was used for storage since then, is now a three-story space that holds a weight room on the ground level, an academic center and training room on the second floor, and coaches offices on the top floor. Michal said the renovation of that space was particularly impactful.

“The facility looks great. The pool building looks great,” Michal said. “That was an ingenious solution to take, in effect, what was a single-story space, and to be able to subdivide that into three levels so we could clear up the concourse.”

Student-athletes already have access to the new academic center and training rooms. LaRose said the general consensus has been outstanding.

“The true beneficiaries of this whole project are the student-athletes,” he said. “They are the ones who are going to get new locker rooms. The coaching staff has said response has been overwhelming to the new– the new effects of the academic support area, the new athletic training area.

It’s the wow effect by the student-athletes who are the beneficiaries of all this work.”

Freshman volleyball player Marissa Collier said the training room has is state-of-the-art.

“The ice bath is really nice, and the technology to help people out, so it’s awesome,” she said.

One of the other major renovations that fans will notice is increased handicapped accessibility in the fieldhouse. These amenities will include an elevator to handicap-accessible seating in the upper level, as well as handrails going up the aisles.

“We were grandfathered in and didn’t have to have the handrails, but any time you touch and improve a structure, you have to bring it up to code,” LaRose said. “There were a lot of code issues we didn’t have to address before, but now we had to address.”

While the renovations appear to be on schedule, they came with a price.

The volleyball team will not play a home game in Hinkle Fieldhouse until Nov. 7 this season. Instead, it is hosting two games at local Shortridge High School and two other games in Butler’s Health and Recreation Complex.

Collier said the team is making the best of the situation.

“We’ve accepted it no we’re trying to make the best of it,” Collier said. “We travel for four or five weeks in a row, so our approach is we get to travel, so that’s more fun. We’ve just got to take advantage of it while we can.”

Freshman Jessica Hull added she knows the finished product will make up for the inconvenience.

“It’s kind of unfortunate, but it’s outweighed by how exciting it’s going to be to have a really cool Hinkle,” Hull said. 

While Michal said the goal was to minimize inconveniences for student-athletes, he said some were avoidable when considering the variables.

“With any construction project, there are three main variables: the quality, the schedule and the budget,” Michal said. “That’s a balancing act all the time. If you have infinite budget and infinite schedule, you can get very high quality. We don’t want to compromise on the quality. What we have to play with is the schedule and the budget. We have a limited budget we’re working with, so that means sometimes you have to compromise on the schedule.”

Michal said he was sure the fieldhouse will be ready for the opening men’s basketball exhibition on Nov. 1. 

The athletic department is working with the marketing department to do what Michal called a “soft opening” a few days before the first game to work out any unforeseen issues. It is tentatively set for Oct. 27.

“It is a high-volume but low-risk event,” Michal said. “You know the first time you’re operating everything, you know you are going to discover things that aren’t right. By doing that we can have a time to flush out all those issues and have a few days to resolve those before that first preseason game. It would get folks into the arena, run the PA system and the video screen, and have the concession open.”

The number of seats in Hinkle will decrease for the second time in its history. It was constructed in 1928 with 15,000 seats, and decreased to 10,000 in 1989. The number will go down once again, this time to 9,100.

LaRose said he does not foresee an issue with the lower number of seats.

“We sold out several games last year and we hope to do the same this year, but we feel 9,100 is an appropriate amount to take care of our season ticket holders and our walk-ups,” LaRose said.

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