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Assembly Hall changes
would add air conditioning, better seating
Chamberlain, News Editor
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view of the proposed changes to the Assembly Hall. Recommended
outside changes to the facility include an expanded entry
lobby on the west side of the building; the addition of four
small, two-story "satellite" structures connected
at points around the building, as one means of providing additional
space for restrooms, concessions and offices.
Ill. The Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
could see more than $60 million in improvements and additions during
the next few years if the university follows recommendations in a recently
study. The next step will be to identify private funding for the project.
The study by Minneapolis-based Ellerbe Becket Architects & Engineers
Inc., sponsored jointly by the Assembly Hall and the universitys
Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, evaluates the feasibility of
modernizing the 39-year-old Assembly Hall in line with standards set
by newer multi-use and basketball facilities.
When the facility opened in 1963, it was ahead of its time in many ways,
said Gene Barton, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, who
oversees the Assembly Hall. "But today, its behind its time,"
he said, especially in many ways related to customer service. In commissioning
the study, "We wanted to find out what we could do, and what it
would cost," Barton said. "Obviously, its not feasible
to use students fees to pay for such a massive project."
"Weve got a building thats got a tremendous history,"
said Kevin Ullestad, the Assembly Halls director. "But we
needed to look at how we can provide modern amenities and conveniences
and prepare the building for the next 30 years." The changes would
improve the hall as a basketball and multi-purpose facility, Ullestad
said, and make it more competitive in booking additional events. "It
will put us on a level playing field."
Recommended outside changes to the facility include an expanded entry
lobby on the west side of the building; the addition of four small,
two-story "satellite" structures connected at points around
the building, as one means of providing additional space for restrooms,
concessions and offices.
In suggesting these additions, the firm took into account the status
of the Assembly Hall as a campus icon, as a "unique design statement"
at the time of its opening, and in keeping with its listing on the National
Register of Historic Places. Barton noted that Max Abramovitz, the architect
of the Assembly Hall, was consulted on the design recommendations in
the study. "Hes excited about the possibility of how this
can work, making an old building much more functional."
"The study presents us with an opportunity not only to keep the
historic integrity of the hall but also to make it an exceptional venue
for sports and a wide variety of other events," athletics director
Ron Guenther said. "The changes the planners envision would result
in a facility everyone will be eager to visit."
On the inside, changes would include a lowering of the arena floor by
four feet, accompanied by new A Section seating lowered to the same
level. One benefit, the study noted, would be that students in A Section
would be able to remain standing without blocking the view of patrons
in the higher B and C sections. In addition, the new A Section seating
on the east side of the arena floor would be retractable, making it
possible to bring seating closer to the floor for basketball and yet
provide additional floor space for other uses.
Among other significant changes would be new, wider and padded seats;
handrails and wider aisles in all sections; and more and better seating
at all levels for people in wheelchairs; the addition of elevators and
escalators; air conditioning; and courtside "club" space for
gatherings and functions, located under the A Section seats on the west
side of the arena floor.
The plan also comes with three schemes or options, the second and third
of which would introduce suites into the facilitys seating arrangement.
The second option would include 26 suites distributed around the middle,
or B, section of seats, with some of the lost seating regained by closing
up every other entry in C Section and locating new seats there. The
third option would also close up every other entry in C Section, placing
10 smaller suites in those locations and leaving the B Section as is.
All three options would mean a loss in overall seating capacity. The
first option, without suites, would lower capacity from 16,692 to an
estimated 16,159. The second would lower capacity further, to an estimated
15,650, with 312 of those in suites. The third would lower capacity
only to an estimated 16,279, with 120 of those in suites.
These options also affect the overall cost of the project, with the
first option estimated at $61.9 million, the second at $66.8 million,
and the third at $63.4 million.
With the addition of satellite structures and other changes, the Assembly
Hall would have seven times as many places to buy concessions and three
times the current number of both mens and womens toilets,
as well as more space for offices and for the flow of people through
the building. The existing facility has restrooms only on the lower
concourse, and most of the new restrooms would be added on the upper
concourse, in the satellite structures.
Other improvements include upgrades to bring the facility in line with
Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and current building
codes, extensions and improvements to the sprinkler system, installation
of a smoke exhaust system in the seating bowl and concourses, improved
lighting for the arena floor, energy-efficient lighting elsewhere, and
replacement of mechanical and electrical equipment.
The 3 1/2-month process involved in completing the feasibility study
was a collaborative one, involving personnel from the Assembly Hall,
the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, the Campus Architects
Office, and other campus units. Also involved was an architectural class
that used the renovation as their semester assignment.
If funding is found and the recommendations go forward, the study proposes
a construction schedule that would extend over 28 to 30 months, and
that works around basketball seasons. The lowering of the floor and
installation of new A Section seating would take place between the first
and second basketball seasons that fall within the timetable. Exterior
work would go on continuously, with the satellite additions complete
by the second basketball season and the entire project complete by the