Smith Center wrapping up renovations

As a new crop of GW freshmen move into their residence halls across campus this weekend, many will likely make a point of attending Freshman Convocation on Saturday, the first event scheduled to be held in the newly renovated Smith Center. And after months of dust, paint, plywood and noise, the 35-year-old stadium will be ready for the crowds.

Phase three of the Smith Center renovations are scheduled to reach “substantial completion” in time for Freshman Convocation, Associate Athletic Director for Facilities Jason Wilson said. The third phase of the renovations, which began last spring, include a new all-glass fa?ade for the exterior of the building, as well as new concession areas, new bathrooms and a new all-video, high-definition scoreboard.

The renovations will also bring the stadium further into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act by adding wheelchair ramps and family bathrooms. Phase three will also see the addition of two new entrances, near the corners of 23rd and G streets and 23rd and F streets.

Beyond complying with modern building codes and standards, Wilson said the renovated Smith Center will be able to meet many of the demands the University places on it.

“In the ’70s, GW sports and GW events, Colonials weekends, those type of things didn’t really exist the way they do today,” Wilson said. “At the time, [the Smith Center] was way above and beyond what we would ever think we needed.”

Last year, the University completed phases one and two of the renovation process, both of which focused largely on the interior of the building, including new locker rooms and a new academic center, as well as a new court and lighting system. Phase two also saw the construction of the Colonials’ Club, a hospitality area for top donors.

The renovations are the product of a pledge from the Smith-Kogod Foundation to match donations for the stadium up to $10 million. The overall cost to the University is estimated at $41 million, $25 million of which will be paid for through donations.

Wilson said that with the renovations nearing completion, he’s excited to put the Smith Center on display for returning students. Before, Wilson said, the public might not have known that the Smith Center was “right here in the heart of Foggy Bottom.” Now, he said, the new-look stadium will be unmistakable.

“When people come and they’re excited, that’s when I get most excited,” Wilson said. “The Smith Center is really the front porch of the University,” he added later.

While the interior of the facility will be more than 95 percent complete and functional, paint touch ups and small fixes will continue to be taken care of throughout the semester. The exterior of the building will also require work into the school year, although most of the major projects have already been completed.

The bulk of the remaining work, Wilson said, will be on the landscape and hardscape surrounding the Smith Center and the timing of their completion will be largely dependant on weather during the academic year. All work is expected to be completed by spring 2011.

After Freshman Convocation, Wilson said the floors in the main and auxiliary gyms will need to be refinished before they’ll be ready for the first competition of the year, the women’s volleyball team’s conference and home opener on Sept. 25 against Charlotte.

Ultimately, Wilson said that he hoped that the new-and-improved Smith Center would serve as a way for the entire GW community to feel attached to the University.

“With all of our students, our parents that come in here, there’s an emotional connection, in my opinion, that can be made,” he said. “If you come into a building, and there’s nothing up that says GW, I think that that’s potentially a missed opportunity, especially in an athletic facility.” u

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