Arena project reaching another deadline

Jessica Sasseen

Western officials had a vision for Diddle Arena.

Last spring, that vision was only a rolled up piece of paper. But less than a year later, their vision is alive.

Construction workers are trying to beat a March 1 deadline in the $26.8 million Diddle Arena renovation before Western hosts the men’s and women’s Sunbelt Basketball Conference Championships.

The facility is usable for events like basketball games. Workers are still pressing on to complete new offices, concession stands and locker rooms.

The auxiliary gym is also scheduled to open in March. This addition will house two full-size basketball courts and a weight room for student athletes.

During Christmas vacation, the upper arena was painted and more masonry work was completed on the outside. In addition, doors were hung throughout the inside.

“People always look at athletics, and we’re criticized for how slow the projects go, but look at what we’ve done in a year,” Construction Manager Ed West said. “We just started designing in February of last year.”

The renovations have been able to move quickly because different phases of the construction were contracted out separately, West said.

Originally, the renovations were on a three-phase schedule with deadlines of Nov. 1, March 1, and sometime during the summer.

The entrances, ticket booths, offices, locker rooms and concession stands were scheduled to be finished by Nov. 1. Phase two was scheduled to be completed by March 1 and included renovations to the brick exterior, stairwells and auxiliary gym. Contractors and architects later decided to combine the two phases with a Nov. 1 deadline.

Although workers were able to get farther ahead on the new stairways and auxiliary gym, construction on the ticketing booths, offices and locker rooms fell behind.

“They bit off more than they could chew,” West said.”But we played basketball in here 21 weeks after renovations began. There are just a lot of small, nagging things that aren’t complete.”

Officials said the ticket, sports information and marketing offices should be able to move in by the end of February.

“We’re going into a better situation than before,” Ticket Manager Jim Cope said. “We’ll be on the lower level and have better access to the people.”

After March, workers will continue focusing on the outside of the building. Some outside renovations were completed over Christmas, but cold weather made that process slow.

Because it must be at least 40 degrees outside to lay the brick, West doesn’t anticipate the exterior’s completion before the Sun Belt Tournament.

Athletic Director Wood Selig said improvements in facilities such as Diddle Arena will attract a higher number of student athletes and donors.

“It’s hard for us to go out and ask for donations if we didn’t make a commitment ourselves,” Selig said. “It’s easy to show the commitment now, and to get more commitments based on what (potential donors) see.”

West is confident the completion of this project will only enhance Western’s appeal.

“I would say that we are in the top, in terms of on-campus facilities,” West said. “This is Western’s arena, first and foremost, and when you look at universities, we are in the top.”

Reach Jessica Sasseen at [email protected]