Groundbreaking ceremony marks beginning of new era at UCCS

By Doug Fitzgerald published August 22, 2008

There's one No. 1 ranking that chancellor Pamela Shockley-Zalabak is more than happy the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs will finally be able to shed.

"We have the smallest gymnasium in the entire NCAA," said Shockley-Zalabak Thursday during the groundbreaking ceremony of UCCS' new events center. "I'm happy to say we will be losing that distinction."

At a ceremony that included University of Colorado president Bruce Benson and the Board of Regents, UCCS finally broke ground on its new events center. The center, according the architect Chris Carvell will be a two-level, multi-purpose arena that will seat 1,600 for events, conferences and performances and 1,200 for intercollegiate athletics.

The arena will be built into the hillside between the University Center and Dwire Hall. Fans entering from the Dwire side will come in on the second level, while fans entering from the south-facing entrance or from the University Center will enter on the first level.

"It's one of the toughest sites we've ever encountered, trying to fit this in," said Carvell. "We're holding back 35 feet of mountain to slip this building into the hillside.

Coaches and administrators from the Mountain Lions Athletic Department watched the ceremony with a mixture of excitement and relief. Over the years, literally dozens of concepts and proposals for improved athletic facilities have been explored. Thursday's ceremony made all the effort worthwhile.

"This is a huge puzzle piece in the whole college experience," said UCCS men's basketball coach Russ Caton. "As far as recruiting, it's going to be a huge step for us."

Since it was completed in 1988, the UCCS basketball teams have played in the cozy confines of the Lions' Den, which was known as the Gold Pit prior to the school's mascot change in 1999. The gym seated just over 300 until it was renovated in 2006 to accommodate 418 fans.

With the new events center will come a number of benefits.

"There're multiple reasons to do this project," said vice chancellor for administration and finance Brian Burnett. "It was first done to create more space for the athletics programs, but it's going to have an attendant benefit for our academic, student life and cultural life programs her on campus.

"In addition to providing a venue for our athletic events, it will provide a larger gathering space for things like convocations and concerts that we don't have room to hold or other large conferences, which will bring more life to this campus."

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