Sure, brothers C.J. and Xavier Henry will play for their parents’ alma mater this fall, more than two decades after mom and dad each suited up for the Jayhawks.
The incoming basketball brothers also will be among the thousands of crimson-and-blue players, staffers, fans and others who will be stepping into the next generation of Allen Fieldhouse: a basketball building long revered for its history but one quickly becoming home to the latest in technology, comfort and competition.
“We think it’s important to do everything we can to keep our basketball programs at the level that KU fans expect them to be,” said Jim Marchiony, an associate athletics director. “These improvements are necessary to do that.”
The improvements — including new bathroom fixtures, reorganized concessions stands, expanded locker rooms and a sprawling alumni lounge — are part of $42 million wave of donor-financed construction sweeping through the fieldhouse and its adjacent buildings.
Long gone are the days of the building’s lower-level concourse doubling as a track, or its public bathrooms looking like something normally reserved for a county fair.
Today’s fieldhouse, now 54 years old, is retaining its old-school charms, such as the original Longines clock on the west wall, while building on recent upgrades that included a new video scoreboard, an upgraded sound system, the Booth Family Hall of Athletics and more.
The Lawrence office of Gould Evans Associates designed the improvements. John Wilkins, principal in charge for the project, received his architecture degree in 1986 from KU, having faithfully followed fellow students Cedric Hunter, Mark Turgeon, Ron Kellogg, Calvin Thompson, Danny Manning and others on their run to the Final Four.
Wilkins is embracing the chance to improve the fieldhouse experience for fans like himself and thousands of others.
“It’s a little bit humbling, because it’s such an iconic building,” he said.
The latest renovations and expansions, scheduled to be finished by the time the 2009-10 season tips off in October, include upgrades for both the teams that play at the fieldhouse and the fans who gather there.
For the fans
The fieldhouse still holds 16,300 spectators for home games, but their experience will expand for the coming season and beyond.
Upgrades for some fans will start even before they even step inside.
Among the upgrades:
• A new double-deck bridge is being built between the fieldhouse and the parking garage to the north, which is used by qualifying members of the Williams Educational Fund on gamedays. The bridge will connect the fieldhouse with the second and third levels of the garage to help people get in and out of the fieldhouse warmer, faster “and drier,” Marchiony said.
• Inside the fieldhouse, the first-level concourse is being widened to help ease congestion before, during and after games. Nine first-level stairwells are being removed to improve circulation and flow, Wilkins said, while three “large stair towers” are being added at the outside edges of the fieldhouse to keep fans moving while freeing up space for teams and their support needs. “It’s going to be a learning curve,” Wilkins said. “It’s going to be more open, with easier circulation to get around, but certainly finding the stairs to your seats will take while for everyone to get used to.”
• Restrooms for men and women will be upgraded, making them even more “up-to-date” than accomplished through previous renovations, Marchiony said. Wilkins said that original, 1950s-era fixtures would be replaced.
• Concessions stands will be rebuilt to be bigger, and designed to make operations more efficient for workers and more convenient for fans. “It’s all with customer service in mind,” Marchiony said. “That was a very, very necessary improvement.” A central area for storage, with walk-in coolers, is only part of the work that will enable more menu options to be made available, Wilkins said: “The whole thing Kansas Athletics is trying to do is upgrade the whole concessions experience: better food, better service.”
• The Booth Family Hall of Athletics is being expanded and will include new, interactive elements. The hall’s usable space will be doubled, Wilkins said. Marchiony noted that the fieldhouse’s west hallway — the one that leads to the men’s and women’s locker rooms — will be remodeled to include a “historical element” featuring historical photos from each decade of KU basketball.
Also under way: Construction of a new Donor Atrium, to be connected to the second floor of the fieldhouse and considered a “hospitality area” for qualifying members of the Williams Fund before, during and after games, Marchiony said.
Although details are still being worked out, he said, the atrium will include lounges and provide food and refreshments.
“It will run the length of Allen Fieldhouse on the west side, connecting Parrot (Athletic Center) and the fieldhouse,” he said. “It will be huge.”
The atrium will have room for more than 200 people, Wilkins said, and include a bar, lounge seating, stand-up tables, televisions and other features.
“Certainly, trying to come up with different venues that appeal to different fans and donors makes total sense,” Wilkins said. “It gives them some choices and some variety in what they can do.”
The Naismith Room, which has welcomed donors in recent years on the east side of the fieldhouse’s second level, will remain in place, Marchiony said. Its use for the coming season has not been determined.
The overall goal for such upgrades is to give people attending games the best possible fieldhouse experience.
“Fans who support a program, like Kansas fans support a program, deserve to be treated in this manner,” Marchiony said. “The fans are going to love what they see in October.”
For the teams
Don’t expect players, coaches and their support staffs to be left out of the project.
Both the men’s and women’s basketball programs are taking a step up in the facilities arena, as their locker rooms get expanded, film rooms are added, a new practice center is built next door and coaches and others prepare to move into renovated offices.
The new-and-improved digs are designed to better serve Jayhawks on the court, both now and into the future.
“It’s still the best place in the country to watch a basketball game,” Marchiony said. “What we’re doing, and what we did a couple years ago with renovations inside the bowl, is to make sure that it remains the best facility in the country, and to keep the facility at the level where young men and women want to come play here.”
Jayhawks won’t be the only ones reaping benefits from the project. Even locker rooms for visiting teams and game officials are getting a makeover.
And other KU sports are sharing in the bounty.
With the football program moved into the Anderson Family Football Complex near Memorial Stadium last year, other programs were given a chance to expand into the open space. Offices for coaches in what are known as Olympic sports — such as softball, volleyball, swimming, tennis and soccer — are receiving some renovations, Marchiony said.
A new academic center runs the length of the north side of the nearby Anschutz Sports Pavilion. Academic staff members moved in June 1.
“It is probably the finest academic center in the country right now,” Marchiony said.
A new practice facility — to be named in honor of the Forrest Hoglund family, a major donor to the project — is being built adjacent to the fieldhouse, and already features a prominent display: the Final Four logo cut from center court at the Alamodome in San Antonio, where the Jayhawks won the 2008 men’s national championship.
The square hunk of floor is mounted on the wall, dwarfing a smaller scoreboard a few feet away and lending a piece of recent history to a building that has yet to make any.
But Bill Self and the rest of the Jayhawks are looking forward to the fieldhouse and related upgrades being in place, forming yet another solid foundation from which to build strong teams for the future.
In short, the tradition continues.
“We’re excited about everything going on at our university,” Self said last year, of the planned upgrades and others under way.