Taking a Chants

August 19, 2010

By next winter Coastal Carolina University students can expect to say "sayonara" to the cramped and dingy fitness center at the Williams-Brice Building and "hello" to a brand spanking new $35 million 130,000-square foot on-campus Convocation and Student Recreation center.

Similarly, CCU's NCAA basketball squads can kiss arena-in-name-only, Kimbel Arena, goodbye.

CCU is keeping up with the Joneses. Well, at the very least its fellow Big South Conference basketball and volleyball competitors at Winthrop and Radford University.

Basketball and volleyball players will no longer have to send wistful glances at other teams' facilities during away games. A new modern glass-enclosed building, flat panel television displays, hospitality suites, and 3,500-seat arena will put the university on par with its nearby rivals.

The new convocation center, expected to be completed in November 2011, will be a welcome change for CCU's NCAA men's and women's basketball and volleyball programs, which now play in the Kimbel Arena, a space the size of a high school gym.

Although, this is the second attempt at building a collegiate-level facility for the university's b-ball program, this time it's the real deal.

There is a huge incentive to finish the convocation center on time. The university is planning to host the 2011 men's basketball season opener Nov. 15, 2011 against SEC powerhouse Louisiana State University.

Students at Santee Hall are getting a front row seat to the construction. Students moved into to campus on Aug. 14 to the sight of a maze of metal stakes, heavy machinery, concrete and wood littering the former site of the intramural fields behind Santee Hall.

The groundbreaking ceremony was in April but work on the site started in June. The university selected PC Construction of Greenwood Inc. as the contractor. The building's foundation is in the process of being laid down and the exterior walls are expected to be going up in the next several weeks, said CCU's Project Manager Phillip Massey.

"It's just starting to come up out of the ground," he said.

Growing pains

It's 2 p.m., two days after move-in and already the on-campus weight room and cardio room is almost half-way full. While it may sound like the university is full of fitness-crazed students, filling the exercise areas is actually a fairly easy feat.

With about 35 weight machines and about 15 cardio machines in the main fitness room, it only takes about 30 people to make the room look full. And, while the new cardio room next door with elliptical machines sits empty, the few treadmills in the other cardio room are taken.

It a known fact among students to avoid the weight room during peak times of 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

"With Coastal Carolina growing as it has, we've been outgrowing our facilities," said Massey about the need for expansion. "The new facility will be about three times larger than the Kimbel Arena."

This fall, about 8,700 students are enrolled, a significant increase from about 5,000 students in 2001, according to CCU data.

According to a 2007 university survey of 551 students, 73 percent believed campus recreation has inadequate space and 83 percent wanted a new indoor recreation facility.

Student Government Association approved a $350 per semester tuition increase in 2007-2008, to support the bonds. Also included in the bond issue was a library addition and annex to the science building, said Financial Officer Will Garland

The Williams-Brice Building, which includes a swimming pool, could likely sustain about 100 students comfortably before the odor and heat overtake them. That's about 10 percent of the university's population.

CCU Director of Recreation Jody Davis is eagerly anticipating the new center alleviating the space constraints that students face.

There is only one room for fitness classes. It is about 800-square-feet and hosts about 10 classes a day ranging from spinning, yoga, abs and cardio blast.

"We have a waiting list for some of our classes. We have students who show up 35 minutes in advance to sign up for a class. You see them lined up outside like it's a line for a concert or something. I see students leaving frustrated all of the time," Davis said.

CCU Sophomore Nick Cerone knows all about having to wait in line for a class.

"The classes are really good, the only thing is that you have to get there 25 minutes early to get a number to hold your place in line and then you can sign up," he said. "At least that's how it is for the spinning class I take. And, if you miss the class you can't just wait to catch the next one, because there's an abs class right after it. Sometimes you just don't get in."

He was happy to hear CCU planned to make more room for fitness classes at the new convocation/student recreation center.

"That is definitely going to be a huge benefit," Cerone said.

One thing he was concerned about was the loss of the intramural fields behind Santee Hall.

"It was so convenient to have those fields, you would always see people outside," Cerone said.

Instead, the university has moved the intramural fields behind the science building that is fenced in and will have lighting, Davis said.

"It's 11-acres and it's double what was back there before," Davis said.

At the new recreation center there will be 3,000-square-feet for fitness classes, allowing for multiple classes at a time. And, if taking a yoga or spin class isn't for you and the leg press is more your thing, the new center will also boast more floor room for cardio and weight machines.

The new facility will house a 45,000-square-foot student recreation center with a 30-foot climbing wall, an indoor track, large areas for cardio equipment and free weights, as well as three multi-use workout rooms that will be used for fitness classes and for meetings.

The building will be outfitted with wireless internet connection and flat panel televisions positioned around the building keeping students up-to-date on events going on around campus.

CCU Sophomore Tyler McCarthy said he thinks the expansion is definitely needed. McCarthy is a walk-on to the football team. Although, athletes have their own training facilities, he had to use the main gym during his freshmen year before he got on the team.

"It's pretty dingy down there and cramped. You can't go between 5 to 8 p.m. because it's so crowded. You wind up having to base your schedule around times when you could go work out. There is not much room and the equipment is dated. I understand that because space is limited they can't put in too many machines."

This also means the university will have more machines and multiples of the same machines reducing the need for students to have to wait to use equipment during peak times, Davis said.

The convocation center will also free up some other space for intramural teams.

"We have 75 to 80 intramural basketball teams," Davis said. "One of the issues that we have is that since we only have the one court, you can only play one game at a time. For our students it means that you can't always play at a time suited for you. Sometimes we have games going on at 10 p.m."

Once the new student recreation center opens, the Kimbel Arena will be converted into two basketball courts, Davis said.

Big league

With the hiring of men's basketball Head Coach Cliff Ellis in 2007 and plans for a new basketball arena (the failed YR2T Arena project), CCU appeared ready to step up its game and become a force in the NCAA's post-season.

At the time he was hired, "Ellis had spent 30 years as a college basketball head coach at Cumberland, South Alabama, Clemson and Auburn, amassing 534 career victories that ranked him 29th on the all-time Division I career wins chart. He took his teams to eight NCAA Tournament appearances, including leading his 1989-90 Clemson and 1998-99 and 2002-03 Auburn squads to the Sweet 16. He also took his teams to 12 NIT appearances and captured five conference titles in his career, including taking Clemson to its only Atlantic Coast Conference title in the 1989-90 season," said a statement released by the university when he was announced as one of five finalists for the position.

Ellis, a big supporter of building the new arena, said it was important in order to take the team to the next level.

"To go to the next level, I think [a new arena] is a must for Coastal Carolina," Ellis told Weekly Surge in 2007. "It's all about how do you compare with other teams and other programs? You look at our Big South Conference rival Winthrop, and Winthrop is winning games, and winning championships, and their facility is one that they can recruit to. It's a must if you want to go to another level. The gym is a player's home, his living room. I would just like to propose this question: if you had a choice of homes, would you like a more modern home, or one that's been around a while? Most people would want the modern home."

The proposed CCU arena included a plan for 7,000 fixed seats for basketball and volleyball games and another 1,500 seats to be added for concerts and other shows. It was also slated as the future home of the nascent Myrtle Beach Thunderboltz, a hockey team. The arena was also expected to host traveling rodeos, circuses, and things such as professional motocross events.

The size was expected to rival competitors Winthrop and Radford universities which have 6,100 and 3,200 seat centers respectively.

All seemed to be on track to make CCU a powerhouse, but the deal for the arena fell through by fall 2007. The Coastal Educational Foundation, the non-profit group that supports the university, failed to reach a workable agreement with developers.

"The foundation, a nonprofit group that supports the university, owns the tract on which developers wanted to build the 7,000-seat arena. In canceling the lease, the group cited the failure of developers to comply with lease requirements, including securing financing and the passage of two dates on which construction was scheduled to begin," read a statement released by CCU on Oct. 12, 2007.

The university had already invested about $1 million. Now, three years later the university is on track to bring the school's athletic programs a new house it had long been promised.

Even without the new arena, Ellis has been moving his team forward. In March, CCU's men's basketball team made its first post-season appearance since 1993 at the National Invitation Tournament in Birmingham, Ala. The Chants lost in the first round to University of Alabama at Birmingham. The women's basketball team appeared in the Big South Tournament as a fifth seed.

The next year will be an exercise in patience for coaches working in the small confines of the Kimbel Arena while their new palace is being built. But, the small space is not without its perks.

"Kimbel Arena has been a great home for the Chanticleers," Ellis said. "We have intense crowds that make it a fun place to play. The new facilities will have upgraded locker rooms, three new courts, and will hold more fans for our home games. We are looking forward to having a new state of the art facility. Without question the new arena will help with recruiting and will also be a draw for attracting tournaments. Kimbel Arena has been a great home for Coastal Carolina athletics for many years and holds many great memories. We look forward to the future and creating more great memories in the new convocation center."

Having a state-of-the-art facility also makes the job of attracting star players a little bit easier. A feat that proves interesting now, when coaches bring players on a tour of Kimbel Arena.

CCU Women's Basketball Head Coach Alan LeForce uses all the tools in his arsenal to recruit top players. He pitches the beach and year-round good weather to lure in athletes.

He knows the new convocation center will help him in his efforts, because it already has. LeForce said this year alone he was able to recruit some new freshmen talent with the promise of the new facility that would be complete in their sophomore year.

"We are going to have a film room. Three practice courts, new lockers rooms and offices," LeForce said. " What we have now is pretty cramped. The gym that we are in now seats about 1,000 and is probably 30 years old. It's not a university facility. I have young ladies who I am recruiting who have better gyms at their local high schools. It's been cozy and I can say it does give us the home court advantage."

The arena portion of the new convocation center will be about 77,090-square-feet with retractable seating, allowing for three full-size basketball or volleyball courts with 3,328 seats when open. There will also be another 165-seats in the hospitality and president's suites.

The center will also be used for graduations, concerts and shows. The floor is not set up for ice, so it will not be able to host hockey games or travelling ice skating exhibitions that commonly tour the arena circuit.

A 5,755-square-foot concourse will divide the two areas and serve as a gathering space before and after events in the convocation center.

"It will give our players a real sense of pride," said LeForce, about the new convocation center. "I think it will also help attendance at games. People are going to come who have never come to a Coastal basketball game just to check out the site and hopefully, they will keep coming back."

CCU Volleyball Head Coach Kristen Bauer also sees the college reaping the rewards from the new center for her team and the area. "We will be able to set up multiple courts for practice and will be able to have larger camps and tournaments throughout the year. It will be nice to show off a new building and its amenities to recruits. It will also be nice having a higher scoreboard and with advanced computer graphics. I feel the crowd size in Kimbel has been a great advantage. It gets very loud and is a good size for our sport, but some of our players have come from very nice high school gyms and we want to be sure to have a nicer facility for their college career," Bauer said.

Majoring in construction

In addition to the $35 million Convocation/Student recreation center, CCU has a slew of construction projects already underway or planned for the next six years that is expected to have economic impact throughout the Grand Strand.

A 2009 study by then-CCU economist Don Schunk showed the university would add about $115 million in direct construction spending. The ripple effect to the Grand Strand community was projected to be about $193 million.

Projects include the Swain Science Annex , $15 million; Information Commons /library renovation, $6 million; Atlantic Center Complex, $1.2 million; Science Annex II; $15 million ;Williams-Brice renovations, $7 million; Student Activities Center, $18 million; baseball/softball hitting facility, $1.2 million; and student dining hall addition, $2 million.

The projects could bring in about 1,746 jobs, including 1,050 positions directly in construction and another 696 positions spread throughout other sectors of the local economy.
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