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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Whitworth Pirates champing at bit with new facility on its way

By Dan Thompson The Spokesman-Review

It is summertime in the basement of Graves Gym, and Bryan Olson’s office soundtrack is the drone of dribbling basketballs, one floor above his head.

“We get to listen to their full practices, every footstep,” said Olson, the Whitworth women’s soccer coach. “They have some summer camps there right now, and by this time I think I’ve mostly tuned it out. But to a visitor it feels like an earthquake.”

On the same level as the gymnasium but a floor above his assistant coaches’ offices, head football coach Rod Sandberg is alone in a corner office, with the sound of banging pipes to keep him company in the winter and a battle to wage against heat in the summer. He has to go across the parking lot to get a color copy.

To Whitworth coaches and others who work in the athletics department, being spread across five different buildings is no crippling inconvenience, but no great luxury, either.

It has been this way for decades.

Next summer, though, nearly all of them will come together under one roof, that of a new Athletics Leadership Center that they can see the progress of every day they head to the office – wherever that office may now be.

“I like people,” Sandberg said. “I like to be recharged by other great people and minds. To have our whole department together is gonna bring great synergy.”

That is the vision behind the new building, which represents Phase I of construction between Graves Gym and the Whitworth Fieldhouse on the university campus.

Construction on the $13 million project, which broke ground on March 11 is scheduled to be finished in April 2020. At that point staff will move in, and the building will open later that summer.

The lowest of its three levels will be devoted to football, including new lockers, showers and meeting rooms. The upper two levels will house coaches for nearly every sport – the swim coaches are expected to stay in the offices by the pool – as well as the athletic administration, something director of athletics Tim Demant said he is excited about.

“Proximity spawns so much interaction and relationships,” Demant said. “Having (coaches) be able to interact with each other is always a benefit.”

It’s not the only benefit, though – specifically for the football team.

For years, the Pirates have lockered in the basement of Graves, two to a locker. But each player will have his own in the new building, and their equipment will be easier to manage in a space entirely devoted to the football program.

“It’s gonna be new. It’s gonna be fresh,” Sandberg said. “It’s the same locker room (now) that they had 50 years ago. It’s gonna feel like first class.”

The football team is also familiar with the bouncing balls and footfalls of the gymnasium, sounds they had to block out during team meetings a floor below.

Bathrooms are few and far between in Graves – so far, indeed, that coaches on the main floor have to go downstairs to find one.

Eventually, Phase II of the project would include a tear down and rebuild where Graves and the adjacent courts are now, replaced with an events center. That would include, among other amenities, a new basketball arena, opening up the existing Fieldhouse – where the basketball teams play – for other uses.

The current construction, then, takes into account all that future planning in practical ways, like the laying of utilities, said Fred Johnston, director of capital projects at Whitworth, who is working on about the last big vacant space on campus.

“This is one of the few spots we didn’t have something already on it,” Johnston said of the construction site, which will eliminate some of the parking that had been adjacent to the Fieldhouse.

Johnston has overseen other projects on campus, including the renovations to the Pine Bowl and Puryear Field, completed two years ago, and upgrades to the swimming facility, which were finished earlier this spring.

The pool got two new banks of windows as well as a new HVAC system and other upgrades in the $1.5 million project. With construction complete, the pool was just refilled – with about 300,000 gallons of water – at the end of July.

There are more projects Whitworth would like to get done, notably the event center and further upgrades to the Pine Bowl, which would include a new concessions space, press box and permanent bathrooms.

But for Demant, this administration building – funded almost entirely by donations – is going to be a core facility for Whitworth athletics.

“Right now if you ask where is the home for the athletic department on campus, we really don’t have one,” Demant said. “Basketball has the Fieldhouse, football would say Graves and the Pine Bowl. This will be our home. If you’re looking for the athletic department, this is where it will be.”