It has taken about a decade of negotiations and planning (not to mention three changes in the Presidents office), but Athletics Director Rob Spear has Idaho pointed towards building a dedicated home for men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball. This facility has actually been needed at Idaho for over 40 years, stemming back to the early 1970s when Idaho basketball moved out of the charming but antiquated Memorial Gym (a facility with history, but far to small and outdated to be a modern day basketball home), and into the then-newly completed Kibbie Dome. It’s been a relationship that has had Idaho’s two major sports – football and basketball – at odds for decades. When one sport is using the facility, the other can’t.
Most recently, it has stymied growth and expansion for both programs. For football, expansion options are limited because the facility is too critical to basketball during the football offseason. On the basketball side, sharing the Dome dramatically impacts Idaho’s ability to schedule early season non-conference competition and host early season tournaments, because when football needs the stadium the basketball team is forced to use Memorial Gym.
However, at long last, Idaho is making serious strides towards fixing this conflict and putting Vandal basketball – and really the entire Idaho athletics program – on much more solid footing for the future. It is now referred to as an “Arena”, and no long an Events Center, since the primary function of this new facility will be focused on athletics.
Below is our conversation with Dr. Spear.
PAT HAUGE: When we talked back in July you said the new arena project “has legs.” Is that still the case?
ROB SPEAR: “It is. The President’s been very public about it, and he’s committed to the project. We still have one more hurdle to get over, and that is to get State Board approval. We need to put together a package and take it to the State Board, which will allow us to initiate a silent campaign for fund-raising. We’re going to have to raise all the money, and that has been very clear from the beginning.”
PH: So when you say “all the money”, there is going to be no commitment by the University in the form of bonds? Are you considering possibly approaching the students to contribute fees?
RS: “We haven’t discussed that with the President. To keep this going, he has said we need to keep this as a $30 MILLION project, and it all needs to be privately raised.”
|br> DUAL ENTRY: There will be multiple entries into the north-side of the facility (note the Dome roof in the background above and to the right). The entry shown above allows access up a flight of stairs to the concourse level, or down directly to the floor level. The final “look” of the façade for the Arena is still being developed, but this gives a feel for entry points to the new facility.|
PH: The last time we talked we focused primarily on the scope of the project, and what the facility will contain. Is it far enough along now that we could get a sneak peek at what it will start to look like?
RS: “Sure. You can see that it is going to be on the north side of the dome, and it will have a great lower entry way into the facility that will allow you to go down to your seats. It was very important to have that soil study done that we discussed before. What we found out through that geotechnical study is that we can really go down about 14 feet, which is the maximum you can go down without increasing your cost significantly. So that was very important as we looked at the overall design. And all this is really important as we take our cost estimates to the State Board, because we want to be as accurate as possible when we go.
“But you can see the main entry, you come in to go to a ball game, to the right is the conference center, and to the left is the practice gym. Once you get inside, it will have a concourse all the way around, and the capacity will be around 5,000 fans. There’s been a lot of discussion about that, and we’ve done a lot of analysis. We also looked at attendance figures during Idaho’s “hay day,” from 1978 through 1993, and the average attendance in all those years combined was about 4,100 fans per game.
|br> CONCOURSE LEVEL: The main entrance into the facility is at the top of the image above. The Arena will be located on the North lawn next to the Dome. The football field runs east-west, the basketball courts run north-south. In the middle is the lower bowl of the game-day facility, with seating evenly distributed around the court, and the concourse wrapping around the lower bowl seating. On the left side (the purple section) is a new conference room that can be used for pre-game events and other activities. To the far right (the green sections) is a new dedicated practice gym which includes new locker rooms for the men’s and women’s basketball teams, plus extra locker rooms for visiting teams and other amenities. Between the gym and the game day arena are two rows of coaches offices and meeting rooms (blue sections). There are four concession stands (colored pink in each of the four corners), and men’s and women’s restrooms on the main concourse level (colored green).|
“In this day and age I want to focus on the amenities, and I want to focus on what it is the student athletes use on a daily basis. Obviously we also really want to take care of our students and fans. We also want to have a special environment that is going to be loud and a tough place to play, and a great place to watch a basketball game.
|br> FULL ARENA SEATING: The seating is balanced on both sidelines, and seating on the baselines is also balanced. The facility will have an official capacity of 5,000 fans (minimum), which will include standing room only tickets. Over half of the arena’s seating capacity in this plan is situated in the lower bowl around the floor. Approximately 1,000 seats will be reserved for students.|
“As you can see here, there’s not a bad seat in the house.”
|br> VIEW FROM CONCOURSE: This is a rendering of the Arena plan, and it gives an idea of what the final facility will look like when viewing the court and the rest of the facility from the wrap-around concourse. Wide concourses will help the flow of fans in, out, and around the facility.|
PH: How does this tie in with the Dome? Does it share a concourse?
RS: “That was a plan that we thought about a long time ago. The cost actually increases significantly when you’re trying to tie into the Dome. It’s better to have a stand-alone facility.”
PH: It probably makes it a little bit easier to make changes to the Dome eventually when you want to do something to that facility…
RS: “Yes, but what it really does for the Dome is it allows it to become a real revenue generator for the University. The last thing we can do is have a competing facility. We’ve heard all the time, when basketball is in the dome we can’t have concerts, we can’t to do this and we can’t do that. Well now, we’ll take the core sports out and you can have the Dome to do whatever you want during that time frame during the school year [when football isn’t in there]. It will be a great facility to house concerts and those kinds of things that we want to do here.
“This is going to be an arena that is dedicated towards basketball and volleyball. Obviously it would be available for some other things for the University on a smaller scale, so I think the size creates a niche building on this campus. Again, it allows the Dome to be utilized more. We won’t compete with the Dome, and it allows us to take care of the student athletes.”
PH: So how do you feel about this plan?
RS: "In my opinion, I think we finally have the right plan."
PH: In a previous interview you mentioned going to a more efficient building process, going away from the traditional Design-Bid-Build model. Can you describe this in more detail?
RS: “It’s not a new model but somewhat new to our campus. It is a process that has been used at other schools, and recently was used by the University of Washington when they did their football stadium rebuild. It’s my understanding that they tried to do the traditional Design-Bid-Build and the cost estimates came back as a preliminary quote of $580 MILLION. They said ‘time out,’ we want to limit this to $280 MILLION. So, they ended up getting six teams, and each team consisted of an architect and contractor, and they said we have $280 MILLION and this is what we want, who’s going to give us the best deal. I’m sure they didn’t get everything they wanted, but they ended up completing that project for about $280 MILLION.
“We need to take the same approach here. We need to say ‘We’ve got $30 MILLION and this is what we want.’ We need to get teams of an architect and a contractor and have them team up and do more of the Design-Build. I think we’re going to get the most bang-for-our-buck, and that is the approach we have to take.
“We’ve been moving along slowly and helping the University get more comfortable with it. We’re going to do something almost like that with our new golf indoor hitting facility, where we’re going to have an individual basically come and build it under a sole-source contract, which is outside the normal operating procedures of the way your Facilities group would normally build things on this campus. The President approved that, and it’s a great step in the right direction to find more efficient ways to construct buildings and get the most for our dollar.”
PH: Would the SBOE be concerned about this new approach?
RS: “I don’t think the SBOE is going to be concerned really about the construction method we’re going to use. I think they would be most concerned about making sure we don’t overspend. The whole goal here is to get the most for your money. When we were going through this design process and had a contractor on site who submitted a bid for what it would cost from a construction cost only standpoint, he said this is exactly what you need to do.
“Hopefully the President will be supportive, because he is going to see the efficiency of the construction of this golf indoor facility. Let’s understand, it’s miniscule in comparison to what we’re talking about for an arena facility. But it is at least opening the door to having a different conversation.”
PH: Do you have all the necessary quotes you’re looking for now?
RS: “There’s one more contractor that we asked to get cost estimates from. Right now we have two based on this current design, and the soil survey that was done which was a huge component to getting a more accurate cost estimate. So construction estimates they’re coming in about $23-25 MILLION, construction only. But we know with all the other costs -- the A&E fees, the endowment we have to invest in, the fund-raising fees -- it’s going to go up, but we have to try to keep total cost under $30 MILLION.”
PH: You started this process back in 2007, when you did a comprehensive facilities study for athletics. Part of that study included an Events Center. Can you talk about how this new design compares to that original Events Center concept?
RS: “We did, we looked at everything from taking the roof off the Dome to renovating the Dome. If you took the roof off the Dome, you first had to have an indoor facility that would house your indoor track program [you also would have to have basketball out of the Dome first before you could remove the roof]. It was a comprehensive study that also included an Events Center, and it included where the Events Center would be located. It ended up being such a significant cost for the Events Center that the University shied away from it.”
PH: That was $70 MILLLION for the Events Center?
RS: “It was $70 MILLION, that’s right. And it didn’t have any of the amenities we’re talking about today -- it certainly didn’t have a dedicated practice facility.”
PH: So why was it $70 MILLLION back then, and this new facility is so much less?
RS: “You were looking at a time that was probably very prosperous for construction -- that drove it up a little bit. It was 7,000 seats. It was attached to the Dome. And just the sheer size of the facility – it was about 177,000 square feet, and this facility we’re talking about now is 70,000 square feet.”
PH: Was it a multi-story concept, I’ve heard it was a four story structure?
RS: “It wasn’t four stories, but it had the Hall of Fame attached to it. It also had larger entry ways -- really it had a lot of wasted space when you look back at it.”
PH: Where are you with the development now?
RS: “What is happening is that we’re working with the College of Art and Architecture to get an actual model built where you can look down and see everything inside the facility. Chris Patano, who has been great to work with and has done all these renderings, went over and talked with the College of Art and Architecture and he initiated that conversation on his end.”
PH: Can you talk a little about Patano, who are they and how did you come across them.
RS: “Chris Patano is up in Coeur d’Alene and he has an office over in Seattle. When North Idaho College (NIC) talked about building a new facility on their campus for about $10-$11 MILLION, I called up Chris and asked how he was doing this so efficiently. When really you looked at that facility at NIC, it’s smaller in scope and not what we need here. But it initiated the conversation, and Chris has done a lot of research across the country into pre-fab steel buildings. One he always points to is The Palestra in Philadelphia [home of the University of Pennsylvania], a great basketball facility. You can see the facility and the interior is a pre-fabricated steel building, and it has a great façade. His thought is you can build a nice arena without having to have it be so cost prohibitive. We got him involved, and then we had a donor step up to pay him a fee for the renderings we’ve seen today.”
PH: Where are you with the builders?
RS: “We’ve looked at three different construction companies, and if we go with this Design-Build approach they would each partner with an architect of their choice, and I am hopeful we can get Patano engaged since he has done so much preliminary work on this project already.”
PH: How critical to what you’re trying to build is the football team winning to getting this project done.
RS: “We talked earlier about the significance of winning the EM Cup for excellence in management. It’s great, and our programs have done a tremendous job. But when you have football, you have to win at it. We understand that. I really believe we’re on the right track, and Coach Petrino has done a wonderful job. We did not have to just rebuild one room in the house, we had to tear this whole program down to the foundation. When you tear it down to the foundation, it’s going to take more time than we all want.
“I do think there is a correlation between this arena project and helping football. You get the core sports out of the Dome, then football really has a true indoor practice facility. It would make it better for everyone, and it helps every program we have. It frees up office space in the dome that allows for better space for programs residing in the dome and it would help football as far as team rooms, we need more team rooms.
“It’s the thing we need to do to keep this thing moving. And my job, Pat, all along has been to improve facilities -- by the time I leave here, I want this to be a great job for somebody. They’re not going to have to go through all the battles I’ve had to go through here. That’s my goal, when I leave, that this is an attractive job for somebody to come into.”