That old barn Hec Ed now one classy place

  • Larry Henry / Sports Columnist
  • Monday, November 20, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE — You won’t recognize your grandfather’s gym.

The old barn has been brought into the 21st Century. It’s snazzy, it’s intimate, it’s ideal for college basketball.

It’s something you might not have thought you’d ever see in your lifetime. And if it weren’t for Barbara Hedges, you might not have.

Hedges, the University of Washington athletic director, had a vision for Hec Edmundson Pavilion. That vision — to keep the old structure intact while spiffing it up with a major renovation — has been realized. What you have now is a first-class facility that should be a huge boon to recruiting.

The updated version of the old basketball arena was opened up to members of the news media Monday afternoon and when you hear these cynics muttering, "impressive," then maybe you’ve got something.

There’ll be those who’ll grouse because they tweaked the name a bit. It’s now called Bank of America Arena (money speaks nowadays) at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. They ought to be able to live with that once they get a look at the place.

Not to go overboard, but it is impressive.

When you walked into the old Hec Ed for the first time, you couldn’t believe it was the home for a major college basketball program. It had a rubberized track on the ground floor, it was small, it was antiquated (built in 1927) and it had these view-obscuring columns upstairs. It had all the warmth of an airplane hangar.

Cold is out in the modernized version. So is the track (moved to the new football practice facility, still under construction). The seating has been enlarged from 8,000 to 10,000 and there’s not a roof-supporting column in the place. They’ve been replaced by huge steel pipe trusses running along each side of the gym 55 feet in the air.

Yes, Bill Gerberding, you can have a gym without columns.

"Eight years ago, I asked John Skilling (a structural engineer) whether you could take the columns out or not and would the roof stay up and he said ‘absolutely,’ " Hedges recalled. "Interestingly, (former UW president) Bill Gerberding had told me that they had talked about this building for a long time about whether those columns could be taken out and the answer was ‘no.’

"So John Skilling and Skilling (Ward Magnusson &amp Barkshire) engineers figured out a way to take the columns out to design this unique truss system and so far the roof remains and the walls remain (standing)."

Another change: the ceiling tiles are gone. Now you can see the actual ceiling of the old gym.

The best thing about the place: It’s intimate and this should really be felt when it’s jam-packed, which it should be Friday night when the Husky women initiate the place against top-ranked Connecticut. The Husky men get their shot Saturday afternoon against New Mexico State.

Most of the seats are theater-type. The exceptions are the student section downstairs, six rows of benches upstairs and several rows near the top. The benches, however, do have backs.

Six arched windows overlook the place from the upper west end. These aren’t new. They were there in the old building, but covered up.

If you’ll recall, when you entered old Hec Ed, you went immediately down a flight of stairs to get to the gym. Now you enter a concourse where there are concession stands and restrooms. Also on this level is a Husky Store and the Husky Hall of Fame room.

Above the Hall of Fame is the Founder’s Club, which you can visit before, at halftime or after the game for food and drink — if you donate at least $25,000 to the building fund. Expensive grub.

Downstairs, you’ll find new locker rooms, equipment, meeting and training rooms for football, men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball and gymnastics. The sports medicine clinic is also down here and it has been enlarged considerably, to somewhere around 6,000 square feet.

One feature that only the coaches and players will appreciate: a new practice gym on the east end of the facility. Whichever team (men or women) is playing at home will work out in the main arena, the road team will get the practice facility.

All of this will impress high school athletes coming here on recruiting visits.

What Bob Bender, the men’s head basketball coach, can’t wait to see is the reaction of fans and former Husky players walking into the main part of the building for the first time.

"I’ve gone around and sat in different areas," he said, "and it is a basketball arena with the fans in mind, for all the right reasons."

The builders say there’s not a bad seat in the house. And they might be right. From the top row, you have a good view of the court and you don’t need binoculars to see the players. Best of all, you don’t have to pretzel yourself around a post.

Hedges sent assistant athletic director Chip Lydum to sports venues around the country to get ideas on what the renovation project should encompass. "I see Duke and Kansas a lot in this building, especially Duke," Lydum said, referring to Cameron Indoor Stadium. "I don’t think Duke went as far as us in making the modern amenities and the sightline opportunities. They enhanced their building with basically esthetics, but we actually picked up many of their features. Those windows (on the upper west end), you’ll see a similar version of those at Duke."

One thing Duke has that the Huskies have yet to develop: a rabid fandom. "What we have to be able to do is bring (in here) … the atmosphere and the emotion of what Duke is," said Bender, who played most of his college career there and began his coaching career as a Blue Devil assistant.

Bender and women’s coach June Daugherty brought recruits into the place while it was under construction and both agreed it has had a positive impact. Both have solid recruiting classes coming in.

Some of the projects in the building won’t be completed until after the New Year, but they won’t detract from the showcase arena.

Your grandfather would be bowled over.

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