With just about every athletic facility on campus receiving a major upgrade in the past 15 years at North Central College, about all that was left to do was to upgrade Gregory Arena inside of Merner Fieldhouse.
The venerable building, which was built in 1930, will look a whole lot different when the men’s and women’s basketball teams kick off the season Nov. 15 with the Chicago Marriott Naperville Tip-Off Tournament.
A $250,000 renovation has added approximately 1,300 seats, providing a 360-degree seating bowl on the main floor in addition to the balcony. The capacity is now 2,600 inside Gregory Arena. As part of the upgrade, a new sound system, updated scoreboard, renovated locker rooms and more have been added.
“We knew we’ve always wanted to have new bleachers,” athletics director Jim Miller said. “What a difference. I spent the last 30 years in this building. I’m in a position to make things better for the students and the legacy of the college. The res rec center, that’s the best (indoor) track in the country. You look at what we’ve done with the stadium and the turf and the riverwalk. To be able to do something with this kind of impact in Merner is great. I know the emotional connection the alums have (with the fieldhouse). To transform that into something they can be proud of is great.”
The women’s volleyball team has broken the renovated arena in by playing its fall home schedule with the upgrades. The men’s basketball team got a taste of what an arena like this was like last spring when they were making their run to the semifinals of the NCAA Division III Championship. With NCC hosting the NCAA Indoor Track & Field National Championships, making the fieldhouse unavailable, the Cardinals had to host their second-round, 64-60 win over defending national champion Wisconsin-Whitewater down the road at Benedictine.
“That helped out a lot,” Miller said. “People could envision what it would be like.”
Men’s basketball coach Todd Raridon can’t wait to get his squad into the new arena on Nov. 15.
“They’ve done a nice job,” Raridon said. “It just has a good feel. They’ve been talking about it for a while. Jim made it happen. We had excellent support from some alums and the administration has been supportive of it.”
Miller said that there were plans for an upgrade like this for years, but until the res rec center was finished, those plans were tabled. In the meantime, he went to every arena he could to try to get a feel for what he would like to see at North Central. Now that it is all finished and the basketball season is set to tip off next weekend, he is looking forward to showing it off.
“You should see the people coming through here, they can’t believe it,” Miller said. “Alums are coming in here and taking photos of it. The last thing you want is to walk in to something like this and have people say it just looks OK.”