A worker on the roof started the process of building the wall that will hide mechanical fixtures and provide a place for a new University of Dayton Arena sign on the north side of the building. A cement mixer on the west side created background noise on an otherwise quiet Monday.
Inside the facility, the basketball court wasn’t visible because the stage had been set up for graduation ceremonies taking place the next two weekends, and the only fan in the team store was John Raponi, who can count on one hand the number of games he has missed in the first 50 seasons of UD Arena.
Three years after UD announced the biggest project in the university’s history — a $72 million upgrade of one of the nation’s most famous basketball arenas — the workers who have transformed UD Arena since the start of construction in 2017 near completion of the renovations. While the final phase of the three-year project started last season in many ways, it will hit its stride in May when the arena closes down for the summer. The arena won’t play host to any more events until basketball season starts in November.
UD Arena Director Scott DeBolt approaches the finish line with excitement, trying to remember what life was like before the work began.
“I’ll go back and look at my job description and see what I haven’t been doing for the last three years and start doing that,” DeBolt joked Monday. “No, it’s been a lot of fun. You don’t get opportunities like this very often — to make a dramatic change and particularly to an iconic building like UD Arena.”
Here’s a rundown of some of the changes coming in the final phase:
Overhaul of west side of arena: The new, wider concourse and club seats between the 200 and 300 levels completed on the east side in stage two will come to the other side of the arena in stage three. There will also be new seats installed in the 300 and 400 levels on the west side. Seats in the other areas of the arena were replaced in the first two stages.
To make room for the wider concourse and expansion of the building, workers have already started to remove one of the two loading docks on the west side. A trailer with a giant First Four sign has sat in that loading dock for years and has already been moved.
Locker rooms: The four court-level locker rooms and the training room were demolished after the First Four in March. Every Dayton player since 1969 — not to mention players from all around the country who have come to UD Arena for 125 NCAA tournament games over the years — has used those locker rooms.
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“If those walls could talk, there would be some good stories,” DeBolt said.
Those locker rooms were original, DeBolt said, and looked very similar to the way they looked when the arena opened. They will be updated with new carpet, paint, lockers, etc.
Air conditioning: For the first time, UD Arena will have climate control throughout the year, including the warmer spring and summer months. DeBolt said it will be in place by mid- to late summer.
“We’re taking that groundwater which we’re naturally pumping away from the building and running it through a chiller, which runs around the building,” DeBolt said. “This will help cool the building. It allows us to do some things in the summer. The two events it benefits the most are the student orientation in the fall and graduation in the spring.”
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Improved lighting: New LED lighting above the court should help the viewing experience — for fans watching the game live and on TV and for people viewing photos from the game. Photographers have long complained about UD Arena’s current lighting system, which is not the most camera friendly.
Media room: Dayton’s old media room was part of a storage area just off the ramp that leads from ground level to court level. The new room will move across the ramp and be located above the court-level locker rooms and under the seating bowl. It will be more professional looking. It will also be the place where coach Anthony Grant and players speak to the media after games.
“We’re still developing the final layout,” DeBolt said, “but it should be a nice, clean, fresh place.”
New elevator: Two elevators will connect the court level to ground level. One will descend into the storage area next to the old media room. Anyone using the elevator will then walk across the ramp to a second elevator, which will take them to court level.
» REACTIONS: What coaches had to say about renovation plans
For the third straight year, construction will continue right up until near the start of the season. That means for the third straight season, it’s unlikely there will be Red and Blue scrimmages in October for the men’s and women’s teams.
“I keep joking and throwing out a date two weeks prior to the season to the construction guys,” DeBolt said, “and they always look at me like, ‘Are you serious?’ I’ve got to keep them on their toes. Most of the subcontractors have been the same (for three years). It’s been good. They’ve enjoyed it and taken a lot of pride in making the renovations.”
The completed renovation of UD Arena coincides with its 50th birthday. The first game was played at the arena on Dec. 6, 1969, against Bowling Green. UD plans to celebrate that history and the reopening of the arena at the same time. Plans are in the works.
“Based on how the schedule goes in terms of construction and making sure things are totally ready for that first game,” Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan said, “we’ll definitely honor the arena and honor its history and honor the people past, present and future who have helped make that building what it is. I don’t have any specifics to share, but it’ll certainly be clear we’re reopening the arena. People will know it’s the opening game of a transformed arena.”
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