Mark Few admits he’s not the greatest tour guide.
The Gonzaga men’s basketball coach sometimes finds himself on campus in late summer when visitors show up outside the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ll run into people and they’re taking pictures in front of the bulldog,” he said. “They’re from Wisconsin, South Carolina, Louisiana, you name it. They’ve always wanted to come here and just see the place. I let them inside, ‘Hey, here’s the Kennel, uh, I might have to get going here.’ ”
Added Few, “It’ll be nice to have a Hall of Fame people can go to.”
With nearly 300 student-athletes and perhaps another 100 guests looking on, Gonzaga held a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for the Volkar Center for Athletic Achievement.
The three-story facility to be located in front of the Martin Centre will house a Hall of Fame, state-of-the-art basketball practice court, strength and conditioning area for GU’s basketball teams, nutrition and social space and academic support services for all student-athletes.
“It’s going to be game-changing, every part of it,” women’s basketball coach Lisa Fortier said. “I don’t know which part I’m most excited about, to be honest.”
Athletic director Mike Roth is excited about all 51,240 square feet of the building but he’s particularly proud of what he calls the “pinnacle of this facility,” the top floor dedicated to academic support.
Roth said Gonzaga’s student-athletes ranked second nationally two years ago behind Dartmouth in the NCAA’s APR (academic progress rate) over a four-year measuring period. Last year, GU shared the top spot with Dartmouth.
“We actually tied with Dartmouth, followed by everyone else,” Roth said. “Gonzaga and Stanford were the only two schools in the western U.S. in the top 20. That’s why that part of the facility is so important to all of us.”
The Volkar Center is one of several construction projects campuswide as part of the Gonzaga Will fundraising campaign launched roughly a year ago that has raised $212 million toward its $250 million goal. ALSC Architects of Spokane designed the building and Garco Construction has been hired as the general contractor.
“This is actually the very first project I began discussing when I became president,” Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh said. “It’s been long in the making, and it’s an important moment for us as an institution to mark.”
The $24 million facility is named after Coeur d’Alene residents Pat and Sandy Volkar, who sold their renewable energy business in late 2011. They took an active interest in Gonzaga athletics, particularly men’s basketball and women’s golf, about five years ago.
They were in attendance at the Gonzaga-Arizona game in December 2014 in Tucson. GU lost a heartbreaker 66-63 in overtime, but the game was just part of the reason the Volkars made the trip.
“It seems like this came about so fast from the first time we heard about it,” Pat said. “We were with (Gonzaga associate athletic director) Jared Hertz and went down at University of Arizona game. Their athletic director gave us a tour of their practice facility, and I saw the start of how this all came together.”
“It’s unbelievable,” Sandy chimed in.
The basketball teams can and will continue to practice at the McCarthey Athletic Center but the new facility will provide an option if there’s a scheduling conflict. The practice facility will be modeled after the MAC, right down to the lighting and other features, to simulate shooting on the programs’ home court.
The new weight room will alleviate pressure from all of GU’s teams using the current Burrows Performance Athletic Center.
Freshman forward Zach Collins said the new center was part of the recruiting pitch he heard when he visited Gonzaga two years ago.
“Having the practice facility open to us all the time is going to make us that much better,” the McDonald’s All-American said. “We’re going to use it as much as possible.
“I saw outlines for the building when I came up. It’s definitely something that enticed me to come here. It won’t be ready for my freshman year but the next few years I’ll be able to use it.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.