Historic Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University is about to undergo its most extensive renovation since the building began hosting basketball games shortly before the Great Depression.
Built in 1928, the aging facility will be the beneficiary of a $25 million capital campaign to fund major building upgrades set to begin in the summer of 2012.
The fundraiser, launched in April 2010, has netted $4.8 million in commitments during the “silent phase” targeting the university’s traditionally larger donors. The campaign will be unveiled to the general public within the next six to nine months.
That the campaign started a year ago, during the men’s basketball team’s march to the NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis, was mere coincidence, said Mark Helmus, Butler’s vice president for university advancement.
And now, with the Bulldogs making an unlikely repeat trip to the Final Four, the university's efforts to raise the money are getting an additional boost.
“The idea of a capital campaign wasn’t aligned with the success of the team,” he said, “but we were certainly pleased with that.”
A storm in August 2009 that damaged part of the building’s roof and dislodged bricks on the exterior prompted a study to determine how Hinkle could be modernized without changing its outside appearance.
As a U.S. National Historic Landmark, the building’s original structure must stay intact. University officials, for instance, can’t even upgrade its single-pane windows with double-pane replacements, Helmus said.
But they can help meet additional demand for season tickets brought on by the Bulldogs' recent success.
More chair-type seats will be added to the basketball arena, replacing most of the benches in the lower bowl. Chairs were first installed at Hinkle in 1989, which cut seating capacity from 15,000 to 10,000. Capacity will drop further, to about 8,500, after the additional chairs are installed, Helmus said.
“Right now, people don’t want season tickets if they’re not in chairs,” he said.
A new scoreboard with video capability also is in the plans.
In addition, ticket booths in the midsection of the fieldhouse will be moved to the east and west ends to improve crowd flow, Helmus said. The midsection of the building will be converted to a lobby where spectators can gather.
New restrooms will be installed on the east side, where administrative offices currently are located, including the office of Athletic Director Barry Collier. He and various coaches will be temporarily relocated to a building behind Hinkle near the baseball field.
They’ll ultimately have new quarters, in a little-known area in the northwest corner of the building that once housed a natatorium. The pool was closed about 10 years ago, and the large space now is used for storage.
Plans call for removing the pool and converting the area into an athletic training facility, which should be triple the size of the current training space under the west bleachers. Remaining space in the old natatorium will become an academic area where athletes can study.
A second floor will be built to house Collier and coaching offices. Bricks covering original window spaces near the upper level will be removed to let more natural sunlight in, and to restore Hinkle closer to its original state, Helmus said.
The lower level under the pool, which is unfinished, will be converted into a locker room for the football team.
“We’re going to preserve a building that we just adore,” Collier said. “To a certain extent, the renovations will be done to keep Hinkle looking the way it does.”
Other upgrades include installing air-conditioning in the main arena, as well as the west gym, which is a practice facility. The Wildman Room, where Bulldog Club donors can congregate, will be expanded. And restrooms on the west side of the building also will be enlarged.
Seventeen of Butler’s sports teams are housed within Hinkle, but it’s the men’s basketball team that’s garnering the attention. Beating the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams on Saturday to make Monday night's final game or winning the national championship is likely to increase the flow of donations and help Butler finish the project sooner.
The school also was awarded $700,000 in federal preservation funds this year from the Save America's Treasures grant program to apply toward the project.
“We believe the fieldhouse is an icon,” Collier said, “and we want to make it available for folks for years and years to come.”