For at least five years, GW’s head men’s basketball coach Karl Hobbs has been pushing for a “world-class” academic facility for student-athletes. Jack Kvancz, the director of athletics, has been stuck entertaining boosters at a dilapidated Smith Center. The women’s and men’s basketball teams have failed to impress recruits and visiting teams with the facility’s outdated locker rooms, and athletic trainers have operated in uncharacteristically small work spaces.
But the $10-million donation Smith Center recently received from a D.C.-area family steeped in philanthropy could help solve some of the athletic department’s biggest problems and solidify the University as a key player in the athletic recruiting world.
The gift from the Charles E. Smith Family Foundation, the Robert H. Smith Family Foundation and Robert Kogod – the largest in University history – is structured as a matching grant, University President Steven Knapp said. As the University raises the $15 million it has pledged to Smith Center renovations, the gift will reach its full maturity. The University fully expects it will be able to raise the additional money, Knapp said.
With this approximately $25 million, GW administrators said they plan to spruce up every facet of Smith Center. The top three priorities, Kvancz said, are the academic facility, the arena’s interior and the sports medicine spaces.
Improvements on the building will also help advance the Campus Plan’s mission of making 22nd Street the heart of campus. It is the gateway to Foggy Bottom, Knapp said, and the first major campus facility one runs into from the south side of campus.
“Students wanted a stronger sense of community,” Knapp said. “That’s something I’ve taken an interest in. There are many things we do to build a shared identity. One is campus design, and the University has made tremendous progress in creating a campus in a place where there was no campus.”
Aside from basketball games, Kvancz said Smith Center is important because all students spend time there.
“As a freshman you go to convocation and as a senior you graduate,” Kvancz said in an interview in his office at Smith Center Thursday afternoon. “Every kid who comes to GW has been in the Smith Center. I think it’s phenomenal for students, so it’ll be a nicer place to take part in whatever the hell you take part in.”
The basketball area of Smith Center has long been maligned for lack of seating, uninspired décor and sub-par concessions. The donation could help make the actual facility look more like an arena and less like a gym, Kvancz said.
The University is considering plans to replace the floor, paint the ceiling black and improve the lighting. Portraits of GW history will be hung on the walls and the gym will get splashed with Buff and Blue paint.
“We need to make the place look like it’s ours,” Kvancz said.
Perhaps the most drastic improvement to the basketball experience will be the addition of a special events center that overlooks the basketball court. The room will be built like a luxury box and will have raised seats overlooking the court, Kvancz said. Bleachers in the upper portion of the student section may be converted into stadium seats in the only other planned seating change.
The outside of the building will receive the biggest facelift. The fa?ade on 22nd Street will be glass paneled and a VIP entrance will be built to lead directly into the special events center.
The University’s student-athlete academic center is located in a townhouse facing Smith Center on 22nd Street. Space is limited and with 22 varsity teams, student-athletes do not get the attention they may need. When Hobbs met with Knapp in the early fall, he enumerated his concern for an academic facility and lamented the fact the University is spending $75 million on the F Street residence hall and leaving out a facility for student-athletes.
“When I first met Coach Hobbs in the fall, I was impressed that he was focused on getting better academic support for athletes,” Knapp said Thursday after he returned from a fundraising trip in Florida. “We take very seriously the whole lives of athletes.”
The facility will likely be in the basement of the building, where locker rooms, media facilities and the training rooms are located.