Photo Illustration by Dan Leitao

“I don’t want to say I’m embarrassed to bring people in here … but it’s a bad high school gym.”

Athletic Director Gene Doris said this to the Connecticut Post when discussing new plans to renovate Alumni Hall.

The University’s plans are part of a much larger overhaul of the campus, which includes the building of new residence halls, as well as the maintenance of other buildings on campus.

Vice President for Administrative and Student Affairs Mark Reed said that the planning of renovations to “Alumni Hall is particularly unique … as a multi-purpose facility that serves not only as an athletic venue for the University and Prep school but also as the largest indoor event location on campus for a variety of functions.”

Reed had reported to the Connecticut Post that the expected renovations would run approximately $15 million. He clarified this statement to The Mirror saying, “The $15 million figure is a best guess and nothing more.  We are still in the planning process … there becomes a true cost to complete a total project, and it is not known at this time what that number will be.”

To figure out the logistics and what the numbers will look like, Fairfield has hired the Boston firm Canon Design, which ranked fourth out of 100 in “Construct 300” survey in the category for University Design in 2008, to help the dream of an updated Alumni Hall come to fruition.

The University has continually stressed that this is part of a campus-wide initiative, and it is not to be looked at as a new basketball facility.

When Reed was asked about Doris’ comment on Alumni Hall being referred to as a bad high school gym, he said, “I think most people who have been in Alumni Hall in recent years — whether for a sporting event or another function of some kind — would agree that  the facility is in need of an upgrade and falls below the standards for a university of Fairfield’s quality, depth, and breadth; a Division I Athletic program; and an institution that accommodates not only the needs of the University but also its prep school.”

The University hopes that these renovations will increase the usability of the facility for the next 20 to 30 years. The facility currently has many different functions: practice and competition for volleyball, a secondary practice and competition facility for men’s and women’s basketball, it acts as a secondary facility for other club and varsity teams, and is also used by many Prep teams, chiefly basketball. It is also a venue for many University and Prep activities.

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“In other words, the facility would continue doing what it has been doing and provide a level of flexibility in doing so,” said Reed.

For sometime there has been a debate of whether or not Alumni Hall was going to be renovated or if a new one was to be built. In fact, even last year’s plans considered what it would cost to build a new Alumni Hall in the vicinity of the Walsh Athletic Center.

The Connecticut Post said that the cost of such a building was expected to be between $60-70 million for a hall that would seat about 4,000 students. According to Reed, these numbers were only conceptual numbers and not formal ones.

“The decision on any new or renovated facility has to be viewed and considered with the full picture in mind,” said Reed.

“People can be passionate about athletic facilities and athletics in general. That’s a good thing. However, that passion can’t cloud the view of the University and its goals overall. We have an excellent venue in the Arena at Harbor Yard,” he continued.

The University moved home basketball games from Alumni Hall to the Arena at Harbor Yard in 2001. The Stags did not return to Alumni Hall until 2006, which was a move widely supported by Fairfield students.

One of the issues that has plagued basketball games at the Arena is the fan support, compared to the frequent sell-outs for men’s basketball at Alumni Hall that echoes back to the notoriety recognized by Sports Illustrated over 20 years ago when it named Alumni Hall as one of the toughest places for an opposing team to play.

Doris said in response to fan support that a main struggle was getting students to any game. “I think the good part about a limited games at Alumni is that we do capture the student crowd.”

He discussed how when all games where being played at Alumni the University was not capturing large crowds for all games, only the games students deemed important, which is still an issue Fairfield is struggling with. Whether the facts are on or off campus, Alumni needs to be seen as more than a sports facility, said Doris.

All of this however is very much up in the air: the cost, the time frame. The University has been strong to stress that they are just in the planning stages, according to Doris.

In regards to the total price, Reed told the Connecticut Post, “How much? I can’t answer. I don’t know, I’d like it not to exceed $15 million but who knows?

“A lot depends on a number of things that people can’t necessarily see, like utilities and other mechanical systems. Barring something unforeseen, that will be accepted by the administration.”

“What has to happen for us to pull the trigger and go to the next phase, the pre-construction phase — which is all the actual designs, the construction documents, the zoning and regulatory approvals, all those things — you really have to have a funding source identified for that and we’re not there yet,” continued Reed.

“I don’t think it’s realistic to think that anything physical will happen before the end of 2011.”

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