Donor may fund Smith Center renovations

Smith Center The 32-year-old Smith Center may receive renovations to the pool, locker rooms and weight rooms, if a donor decides to fund the project.
Ryder Haske
assistant photo editor

A donor may fund major renovations to the three-decade-old Smith Center that would make the facility “look like a new building,” Director of Athletics Jack Kvancz said Wednesday afternoon.

Kvancz said he is optimistic and expects a decision from the unnamed donor by mid- to late October. If the donor fully funds the project, it would be the most expansive renovation to the building in its 32-year history. He would not disclose a figure for the planned renovations, only saying it would cost “a lot.”

The renovation would be completed in portions, as to not disrupt the day-to-day operations of the facility or the teams it serves. The building cannot be renamed, but other rewards will be given to the main contributor, Kvancz said.

“(The renovations) would markedly improve the building,” Kvancz said. “It would really be significantly better.”

Specific details were not disclosed, but Kvancz said the project would affect “much more than basketball” and would include modernizing the locker rooms, weight room and pool areas as well as tripling the training room space. A new alumni area – likely to house the Athletic Director’s Club – is also being planned.

“When the donor first sees the plans, (he or she) is going to say ‘Holy cow,'” Kvancz said. “Whether that means he’ll agree to it, I don’t know.”

The donor could agree to any amount of financial commitment and if he does not agree to fund the whole project, Kvancz said he is hopeful the University and other outside donors will help meet the goal.

The 22nd Street building has been a wet towel on a men’s basketball program that has had a winning trajectory since head coach Karl Hobbs’ arrival in 2001. The facility – built in 1975 – has been branded as a bane on the recruiting process for all varsity squads, specifically the basketball teams.

Hobbs said he is happy with the University’s plans to renovate the facility but said he has been lobbying University President Steven Knapp and other administrators to build a “world-class academic facility.”

“Yeah, we need to make upgrades and modernize locker rooms and give it a real appeal to show that basketball and athletics are important here,” Hobbs said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “By that same token, we need something we can wow a parent and student athlete with. What makes economic sense to me is an academic facility.”

As a result of expanding locker rooms, some teams may be forced to move to other areas such as the Mount Vernon Campus, but those plans will be made once the University knows how much of the project would be funded.

The plans would increase capacity in the main gym, Kvancz said, but not to the point where it would solve the men’s basketball program’s scheduling problems. (The Hatchet reported in August the frustrations for Kvancz in scheduling the men’s team.)

But Hobbs said he thinks upgrading the facility would help attract recruits, who he said are turned off by the facility. The seventh-year coach said he has been “creative” in finding other ways to get recruits to attend GW.

“We don’t have a facility that we can sell,” Hobbs said. “We have other great things that we can sell that attract kids here.”

Smith Center is among the oldest facilities in the Atlantic 10. Schools such as Xavier, Dayton, Rhode Island and Charlotte have rebuilt and revamped their facilities and reaped benefits with higher-quality recruits. Fordham, St. Louis and Saint Joseph’s all are gearing up for rebuilding or renovation of their facilities.

“There’s a reason they are building the arenas,” Hobbs said. “I think that we’re in a very competitive environment. Schools are adjusting to those changes. What’s happening is these schools are adjusting to the market.”

Both Kvancz and Hobbs said they do not believe the renovation will help attract big-name teams to Foggy Bottom. Kvancz said there is no land to construct a new arena but Hobbs said he is still holding out hope.

He said, “You always have hopes that in the future we will be able to, at some point, maybe build a new arena. I just signed a contract extension. Obviously I have pretty good feelings about the way things are going here.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.