Virginia Tech Athletics Planning Ambitious Renovations to Bowman Room, Cassell Coliseum

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Virginia Tech athletics Bowman Room
Renovating the Bowman Room is a priority for the Virginia Tech athletics administration. (Graphic courtesy of Virginia Tech Athletics)

On Thursday, we published Part I of our in-depth interview with Senior Associate Athletics Director Tom Gabbard, who is in charge of facilities at Virginia Tech. Part I covered projects that are currently in motion, including English Field and Rector Field House. Today, we’ll address future projects and plans to several buildings in the Virginia Tech athletic complex.

Gordon D. Bowman Memorial Room

Currently, the Bowman Room on the fourth floor of Jamerson Athletic Center is used as gathering room of sorts. Hokie Club donors often meet there for basketball games, and Virginia Tech feeds the media in the Bowman Room for basketball games as well. For much of the year, Bowman sits empty with little to no use.

If Tom Gabbard and Virginia Tech have their way, the Bowman Room will completely be transformed and turned into one of the most important rooms in the Virginia Tech athletic complex.

Gabbard says that a feasibility study has been conducted in order to explore possibilities for the renovation. At this point, Virginia Tech already has an idea of what the Bowman Room would look like and what function it would serve.

“We’d like to turn it into a whole nutrition center,” Gabbard said. “Build a dining room, redo the dining room, make it a dining facility, and for campus too, and our athletes. We’ll put our training table up there.

“It’ll be another dining facility on campus, but it’ll be athletically-centered, because of the nutrition program that we have going on.”

Such a project would cost quite a hefty sum of money. Gabbard and Virginia Tech are aware that it’s not possible to start the Bowman Room project now, but it might not be that far off.

“Now, it’s about money,” Gabbard said. “How quick can we raise the money? You’re probably looking at a $15 million project there. It’ll probably involve raising the roof, bringing it out another 18-20 feet.”

One of Virginia Tech’s other ideas revolving around the Bowman Room is to expand the hallway between Bowman and the Cassell Coliseum concourse. This, of course, would make the project even more expensive.

“One of the thoughts is to widen hallway from Bowman to Cassell, and open that all up,” Gabbard said. “Make it an addition to the basketball experience. Feed the media, for prime seats maybe make it club-like… there’s all sorts of stuff we’ve talked about. We really want it to be neat, really jazzy.”

Cassell Renovations, or a New Arena?

Sprucing up the Cassell Coliseum concourse is also on Gabbard’s plate. He and Virginia Tech have big plans for Cassell Coliseum, and according to Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times, Director of Athletics Whit Babcock has estimated the price tag could be $40 to $50 million.

Included in those renovations would be a completely redone entrance on the west side of Cassell.

“I want to come out from the entrance. It’ll be underneath the arches, but it’ll come out and build a whole new entrance there, for two reasons,” Gabbard said. “I think that’s the main traffic flow and I think it could be an attractive entrance, but the problem is on a cold, winter night, when they open the doors to take tickets, if you’re sitting in section 8 or 6 on the aisle, you freeze to death until the game starts.”

Virginia Tech basketball schedule
Cassell Coliseum could see major renovations within the next few years. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Air conditioning the arena could also be on the table. Cassell Coliseum is known for becoming hot and humid during games, sometimes being unbearable in the summer. The administration has taken steps to try and fix the problem, but without a massive investment, they’ll likely continue to see little return.

“We’ve air conditioned the concourse, but it’s not terribly effective,” Gabbard said. “The arena, we put those big ole’ fans up, and I think if the truth were known, we could probably crank those up, but those blades throw so much wind. A free throw might not even make it to the net. It needs something, but that would be a major, major expense.”

Replacing all of the seats would likely be a part of any major Cassell renovation, but for now, the old seats will remain in the upper portions of the arena. Gabbard says that Virginia Tech wants to focus on installing the new seats in the lower bowl this summer before tearing out the rest.

“Not yet,” Gabbard said. “We’ll see how these go.”

Cassell Coliseum isn’t a bad arena, but even Virginia Tech will admit it has flaws. Instead of investing in Cassell, Virginia Tech has broached the idea of building an entirely new multipurpose arena.

“I think campus has talked about it. I think campus would love to have one for convocations and graduations,” Gabbard said. “Buzz [Williams] likes Cassell. Seth [Greenberg] liked Cassell. The good side of that is that if there was a new arena, it would probably seat 15,000, and it would be bigger and nicer, which would open [Cassell] up for wrestling, volleyball and we wouldn’t have so many scheduling conflicts.”

Space around the athletics complex is somewhat limited. If Virginia Tech wanted to build a new stadium on the existing plot, the men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as the volleyball team and possibly the wrestling team, would be forced to compete elsewhere for at least a season. Gabbard says that the arena would likely be moved towards the Corporate Research Center.

“My thoughts would be that it would near Chicken Hill somewhere. It would take away more parking,” Gabbard joked.

Virginia Tech athletics ACC Network
The ACC Network is slated to launch in 2019. (Graphic courtesy of The ACC)

Preparing For the ACC Network

Limited space has also become an issue for Virginia Tech when it comes to creating a studio area for the ACC Network. The linear channel is scheduled to launch in 2019, and Virginia Tech is doing their best to look at all of their options. The administration has requested proposals from a consultant as they try to gather as much information as they can.

Gabbard says that the space needs to be roughly 2,500-3,000 square feet, and that the space needs two control rooms, two audio rooms, a studio and other areas for storage, offices, etc.

“We know what the guts of it ought to be,” Gabbard said. “The question is, based on where our infrastructure is already, we’d like to minimize how much more infrastructure we have to put in, but that may not be the way to go. We need a consultant to say, ‘You can do it this way, but if you do it this way, you’ve got a better growth potential.’ That [request for proposal] is on the street, it’s due in mid-June. We’ll make a decision right away and get on that.”

Gabbard said that the administration visited Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee to see how they prepared for the launch of the SEC Network in 2014. Tech also took a look at Duke and what they did in their newly renovated stadium.

“Missouri did a great job with the space they had, but there’s no growth there so they’re sardined,” Gabbard said. “Tennessee did an elaborate job from an eye wash perspective, but they kind of overkilled the eye wash and didn’t get the function they wanted. South Carolina came real close to doing it, Duke has done a great job in their new stadium.”

Possible Lane Stadium Renovations

A space Virginia Tech doesn’t need to worry about is Lane Stadium. There’s no need to expand there, but renovation projects are still being talked about. Virginia Tech is replacing the East Stands bleachers this offseason, which cost roughly $1 million. Gabbard said that it’ll cost roughly $800,000 to do the West stands, but that project is on hold at the moment.

“With Rector and tennis, the studio, all the other stuff going on, it may have to wait a year,” Gabbard said. “We’ve got to get the money moving. It works now, but I’d like to upgrade it.”

Virginia Tech has also thought about adding outdoor club seats to the East stands, and is already studying the idea.

“We’re looking now, structurally, what can we do? Dewberry is doing the feasibility study, and we should have that this summer,” Gabbard said. “Then we can decide, is that really what we want to do, or can we even do it?”

Virginia Tech has also thought about possibly changing their indoor club areas on the west side.

“One thought is, you’ve got the two indoor clubs, which are very nice, but we’ve never been able to completely sell them out,” Gabbard said. “The question is, would it make more sense to maybe take a piece of those, or all of one, and convert it to suites? We’re not there yet, but we’ve talked about it. I think our next step is to see if there’s anything we can do on the East side to balance it out.”

Gabbard says that he’d also like to see the East concourse redone, bringing it along with the South and West concourses. That, of course, would cost a ton of money. But Gabbard can dream, right?

“Money being of no object, which it always is, I think I’d like to redo that concourse completely down there,” Gabbard said. “It’s a little bit of a carnival atmosphere. You go to a carnival and you’ve got this concession stand, there’s a tent and that one’s a kiosk, and this one is a nothing and that one is a Coke machine. I’d like to get it all spiffed up like the South.”

Virginia Tech athletics Lane Stadium
The East stands at Lane Stadium could look a lot different in a few years. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Burrows-Burleson Close to Getting a Face Lift

Of all these future projects, Virginia Tech might move on renovating the Burrows-Burleson Tennis Center first. Tech already ran a design competition, and Gabbard says the winner will likely be announced soon.

“Bureaucracy is a wonderful thing,” Gabbard said. “It takes too many signatures and everybody is busy. The committee has decided who the winner is, but it’s not formal yet. There’s always the legal ramifications of, ‘Did they do it right,’ so there’s scrutiny too. I think in another week, you’ll hear who that is.”

Gabbard did say that the project is slated to run about $4 million. He also said that there are donors waiting to give to the project.

“I think we can raise that money pretty quickly,” Gabbard said. “We’ve got a lot of tennis people out there that are anxious to improve that whole setup out there. The courts are good, indoor and outdoor, but the team facility is just awful.”

Gabbard says the main objective is to upgrade the team locker rooms and player lounges, while also increasing the overall aesthetic appeal of the facility.

“We need to be competitive with our bricks and sticks, as well as our players,’ Gabbard said.

Gabbard admits that the facility needs work now, but once the renovations are complete, Burrows-Burleson will be competitive in the ACC and among the rest of the Power 5 tennis programs.

“Forget the locker room complex for a minute, because we’re going to fix that, about the middle of the road,” Gabbard said. “The outdoor courts are fine, the indoor facility is very good, the glitz and glamour around it is fair. Once we get the locker rooms right, it’ll be middle of the road. It won’t be the best in the ACC, but it will not be the worst.”

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6 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Two Comments:
    1- I was disappointed to read how relatively low in priority improvements to the East Concourse of Lane are. It’s a Bush League operation over there. Better concessions, restrooms, storm drainage are needed. Not to mention flat panel TVs and enhanced audio so you don’t miss a whole quarter while getting a drink or using the restroom. The well-heeled on the West side aren’t the only element of the fan base.

    2- Eventually a new basketball arena will be needed. Start planning now but build it on the existing site. Play the games in Roanoke for a couple of years.

  2. I really want to see them add hokie stone across the entire face of both the east and west side stands in lane. Instead of between the hedges – between the stone! Would look awesome on tv.

  3. Has anyone looked at building it on top of the Stadium Woods? Lots of land there. I kid. lol

  4. I love the ideas of Mr. Gabbard, he seems to be the only one up there that realizes the Cassell is old, run down, and needs real modernization, or better yet a new arena. It was built in the 50s and it looks like a 50s arena . Thank you Mr. Gabbard.

  5. Informative article.

    If they build a new 15,000 seat arena on Chicken Hill, I assume that Tech will need to build a parking deck on the Washington Street lot and/or on near Chicken Hill. The area next to the tennis center has the space for a new arena but I think that area has all the student athletic fields.

    1. WRT a new arena there is going to be a battle of proximity to students vs arena real estate vs agriculutural real estate vs parking. I’d be in favor of a more off-campus location if it meant better parking (which includes saving Chicken Hill, which rocks for football), quicker implementation of alcohol sales, and no major detriment to the farms/surrounding area. But I doubt that is a possibility. Something probably going to have to give.

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