McKale modernization ups ante for Arizona basketball

Greg Byrne says McKale Center renovations, which began in April, are "on budget" and "on schedule" for the fall semester.

TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona women’s basketball coach Niya Butts turned to a UA official and said, "it’s unreal . . . unreal."

That’s the feeling of those involved and in the middle of the $30 million renovation of McKale Center.

"After what I’m seeing today, it’s going to be hard to beat it," said Butts, who took her first look at the renovations that involve tripling the space for her program. "You’re talking about being able to compete with some of the best facilities in the country. I think we will be able to do that now. It’s top of the line."

On Tuesday, the media got its first official look at the progress. Men’s coach Sean Miller, who is coaching with USA Basketball, was unavailable, but he likely would have shared Butts’ sentiments.

Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said the project is about 30 percent is complete and "on schedule and on budget."

Steel walls and barriers are still the norm. Frames for rooms and spaces are common on the first floor of McKale. On the concourse, concrete is the scenery until the seats get placed.

"Once those seats get put in you’re really going to see the noticeable difference to this point," Byrne said. "Most of it has been demolition to this point."

But not entirely. The modernization of McKale Center started with a new floor, hand rails, shells of twice as many concession stands (now 22 points of sales) and restrooms. The just-arrived seats will go in shortly.

About 100 construction workers have been at it since mid-April, with a timetable of getting McKale ready by Sept. 1 for volleyball and "complete by basketball."

There are some challenges, Byrne said, among those being the every-day work environment for those with offices in the building. Jackhammers and power tools are in constant operation, making for not-so-quiet afternoons.

"As Damon Stoudamire and Sean Miller said, it’s the ‘sounds of progress,’ " Byrne said.

Phase one of the renovation is a $30 million project and includes upgraded fan amenities as well as expanded facilities for both the men’s and women’s programs.

Ryan Reynolds, director of basketball operations would agree. Even though Arizona men’s basketball is one of the premier programs in the country, the new locker rooms, film room and space ups the ante.

"The facilities race on the East Coast and now on the West Coast is just another thing you have in your bag when it comes to recruiting that could be a tremendous resource," said Reynolds. "Having all our stuff in one location — the compound of locker room, lounge, training room, coaches locker room and film theater and eating area — is great. It’s going to make it a lot easier for us (coaches) and them (players)."

For now, coaches are selling potential student-athletes with floor plans and drawings.

"You’re kind of selling a dream," Reynolds said.

"Having a whole new floor, new lights, and new seats . . . the reality in recruiting is a lot of the time when we had recruits, the building is empty because they weren’t on game days," Reynolds said. "Now, when they walk into McKale it’s going to be, ‘Oh, my gosh. It’s brand new.’ "

At least until the second and third phases — totaling $80 million — get started. Financing is still needed for that to become a reality.

"Sitting here today I think we’ve made some really good decisions," Byrne said. "We’ve balanced it with student-athlete needs and fans’ needs."

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