The hard-hat tour lasts 45 minutes, not because Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth is long-winded but because it takes time to describe what goes where inside the Volkar Center for Athletic Achievement.
It takes even longer to detail how much the three-story structure means to Gonzaga’s 16 sports programs.
The 51,000-square foot building is on course for completion in November. Giant fans whirr on the second floor where strings of new offices are taking shape. Elsewhere, ladders and hydraulic lifts compete for floor space with saws and power cords as the $24 million project reaches the home stretch.
“Sometimes when people look at the size of this,” Roth said, “they marvel that it all fit on that piece of grass (in front of the Martin Centre).”
The arms race in athletic departments shows no signs of slowing down. Notre Dame is renovating its practice facility to include two full-size courts, among other amenities. Memphis is putting the finishing touches on a $21 million state-of-the-art facility. UConn’s new facility debuted in 2015 and BYU’s opened last February.
Gonzaga’s newest additions – Volkar Center, videoboard upgrades at several venues and men’s basketball locker room remodel – enhance the Zags’ ability to compete for top recruits.
“It’s crazy important,” Roth said. “We’ve been able to show pictures and put hard hats on recruits and take them on tours. It’s not a concept when they see concrete has been poured.”
“It’s a beautiful building and it gives (recruits) a firmer belief this is going to be a better place for them,” GU volleyball coach Diane Nelson said. “They will feel as though they’re coming into a place that’s comparable to some of the bigger programs we recruit against. It will help big time.”
FIRST FLOOR: The centerpiece of the ground floor will be the basketball practice facility, unless it’s the basketball-only weight room or the Hall of Fame, which will actually be more of a historical tour of Gonzaga University.
The basketball court will be a replica of the McCarthey Athletic Center, right down to the lighting, logos and east-west layout. There’s a platform above the court to video practice. Coaches will have the option of covering large windows surrounding the court with the push of a button.
The weight room occupies most of the front section with a video room situated in the east corner. The existing weight room gained a little more square footage during construction and will have fewer occupants with basketball moving into its new workout space.
GU officials jotted down notes and took pictures the last few years on basketball road trips and showed what they liked to Garco Construction, general contractor for the McCarthey Athletic Center, Patterson Baseball Complex and Volkar Center.
“We were figuring out what was going to work for us and what wasn’t,” said Roth, motioning toward the practice court and weight room. “The (Chicago) Bulls’ layout was similar to this.”
The main entrance to the Volkar Center, named after boosters and Coeur d’Alene residents Pat and Sandy Volkar, sits on the eastern edge and leads into the Hall of Fame, which should see more inductees in the near future.
“Since we haven’t inducted anyone since 1995?” Roth laughed. “I think we may have a few to do. That’s part of our plan.”
The glass atrium ceiling installed in 1986 will be extended to cover part of the Volkar Center and connect it to the Martin Centre, meshing the new and old.
SECOND FLOOR: On game nights, boosters at a certain donation level will walk across a skybridge that connects the McCarthey Athletic Center concourse to the Volkar Center. They’ll soon enter a large hospitality/social room with glass windows featuring views of downtown Spokane and the first-floor practice court.
The space, which will likely create a branding opportunity because of its prime location, joins the Herak Club and 63 Court in Martin Centre as game-night social options.
When not in use on game nights, the room doubles as a supplemental nutrition area for student-athletes.
There’s a short staircase up – required to match the new structure with the MAC concourse and the third floor of the Martin Centre – to the row of offices on each side of a long hallway for coaches and administrative staff.
Several new offices fill a void above the current weight room that wasn’t being utilized. Men’s and women’s basketball coaches will stay in their offices at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Roth and numerous staffers have been in temporary offices in the MAC’s rowing room since May. Cellphone reception is spotty and Roth’s office door is roughly 20 feet from a bench-press station. He hopes to move into his new digs in September.
In his old office, Roth had no idea about the weather outside other than when it was hailing because he could hear it on the vent above his desk. His new office will have an east-facing window and he’ll be able to see the sky through the atrium.
“I’ll actually have a window for the first time in 30 years,” Roth said. “I can look out and see if the sun is shining or not.”
THIRD FLOOR: Roth stops in his tracks in the middle of the expansive area dedicated to academic support services.
“It’s not just the pinnacle of the building being on top,” Roth said. “It’s the main focal point of the whole building.”
The area is perhaps 60 yards long by 25 yards wide. GU’s 325 student-athletes currently squeeze into a room – labeled “the dungeon” by one coach – that’s a fraction of the size of their future home. It will be mostly open space, but the back portion is dedicated to offices and sectioned rooms for study groups. There’s a small outdoor, covered balcony. Glass windows provide panoramic views.
“If you talk to my group and what draws them to Gonzaga, obviously beyond the volleyball is how strong the academics are,” Nelson said. “They spend a lot of their down time between practices in our stinky locker room doing homework because it’s cramped in the (academic support room). They’ll have a better space.”
The top floor also has ample storage room.
One of several new or refurbished videoboards got a workout last week in its debut. The new videoboard at Luger Field was operational for the women’s soccer team’s exhibition match against Mount Royal. GU coasted 9-0.
Work is underway on videoboards inside the Martin Centre, volleyball’s home. Plans call for new scoreboards on both endwalls and a 12-foot by 9-foot videoboard on the east wall. They should be ready for the home opener versus Arizona State on Sept. 1.
“It’s another piece,” Nelson said. “I could have a flip scoreboard and I wouldn’t care, but our gym is already pretty special compared to some schools in our conference. This just says, ‘We know where you’re headed and we are going to help you get there.’ ”
Improvements at the McCarthey Athletic Center include a new four-sided, center-hung videoboard with 21-foot by 13-foot rectangular screens facing the sidelines and 12.5 by 12.5 square screens facing the baselines. There will also be a circular ring at the bottom with a circumference of 64 feet.
A pair of 36 by 12 endwall boards will replace the current screens/stat panels.
The time frame for installation, particularly of the center-hung videoboard, presents a minor challenge with practice approaching for men’s and women’s basketball and construction beginning in early September.
“We’ve worked hard with Daktronics on the right size,” Roth said. “It’s going to be big, but not too big. Now you’re taking a great venue and making it better.”
The last phase will replace the scoreboard at Patterson Baseball Complex. The new videoboard will be 36 by 12.
Men’s basketball locker room
The men’s basketball locker room is being remodeled. An adjoining room that was previously used for storage will allow for a modest expansion.
There will be new lockers, showers and entrances into the locker room and the players’ lounge.
The remodel and videoboard projects are being funded by booster donations.
“We’re stoked to have a new locker room,” freshman wing Corey Kispert said, “and the new practice facility is going to be awesome.”
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