By Tim Howard | Staff Writer
Christenberry Fieldhouse just celebrated its twenty-fifth birthday, and now it will be receiving a gift in the form of expansion that is part of the university’s comprehensive Master Plan.
The plan calls for an additional building to be constructed where the baseball and softball fields are currently located on the Forest Hills campus, as well as expanded parking to accommodate the increase in visitors.
Clint Bryant, director of athletics, described the addition of athletics to the master plan as “an ideal situation for us to try to look at the next ten years” as the university physically grows to match its increasing enrollment.
Taylor Lamb, director of athletic media relations, said that part of the impetus for a new building was to alleviate the overcrowding that has become prevalent at Christenberry.
“It’s a great facility, great gym, brand new floor, we love it, but it’s tight,” Lamb said. “With 13 sports now, with the track and field, cross country, volleyball, softball, baseball all trying to use this, on top of basketball and tennis, it gets nuts. So the plan is to get another building, essentially, out where softball and baseball is right now, currently, on the property. Again, until shovels go in the ground, this is more or less theorizing.”
Lamb added that the new building would contain an expanded training and strength & conditioning area, would have more classrooms, study hall space, and offices.
Clint Bryant, director of athletics, said that the university’s choice of Brailsford and Dunlavey was convenient because the firm had previously created a strategic plan for the former Augusta State University’s athletic program.
“They were a part of the master planning group that was hired by Georgia Regents University to be involved,” Bryant said. “And so they knew us and had an idea of us, so it wasn’t like starting from scratch. They were very familiar with what we were trying to do.”
Lamb said that baseball and softball – both of which would be displaced by the new building – would move to Lake Olmstead Stadium, current home of the minor league Augusta GreenJackets, who are about to move to a new stadium in nearby North Augusta.
“Baseball would, in theory, move to Lake Olmstead,” Lamb said. “And there are plans to maybe even put a softball field out there, so that baseball and softball would kind of be in the same location, out near Lake Olmstead Stadium now.”
Bryant said that the new building will help the university as a whole.
“The expectations now in various areas varying from sports information to athletic training to athletic conditioning have all changed,” Bryant said. “And these expanded facilities will allow us to have a greater presence.”
Lamb added that coaches will now have more space and will not have to share a single building, as is currently the case.
“We’ve got people in offices that used to be storage closets, you know, and people doubling up in offices.”
Not only will the new building alleviate coaches being forced to share offices, but it will give student-athletes additional space, as Bryant says the number of student-athletes has more than doubled since Christenberry first opened its doors.
“When we moved into this building, we had a hundred athletes,” Bryant said. “Now we’ve got over 230, close to 250 athletes, so it’s a different day, a different time.”
In addition to the new building, overcrowded parking – which has plagued Christenberry since its first basketball game in 1991 – will also be addressed in the master plan.
Past games against rival USC Aiken have seen crowds in excess of 3,000, which maxes out the parking lot and forces many spectators to park in nearby neighborhoods.
Bryant pointed to the venue hosting the GHSA 3A state playoffs, which featured Augusta-based high schools Laney and Westside, as an example of the frequent parking issues.
“We hosted the [GHSA] 3A state elite eight and final four here last weekend, and there’s not enough parking,” Bryant said. “There’s never been enough parking. And so how can we accommodate more parking for not only our big rivalry games and all of that, but also for when we host events – if they’re graduations or whatever they might be – how do we accommodate more people in the current space that we have? And we think that that can be done.”
He added that parking decks, which are found on the Health Sciences campus but not the Summerville campus due to archaeological issues, will likely be utilized.
“Parking decks are not like they were years ago, when everything was kind of obtrusive looking and complex,” Bryant said. “Now, they blend in with the common décor of the university and really are kind of attractive-looking places. And so that’s one of the things I know that we’re considering is ‘how do we expand the parking.’”
Lamb said that there were no immediate plans for expanding seating into the large mezzanines on each side of the fieldhouse because attendance figures are not exceeding capacity on a regular basis.
“With classrooms all being in here, you know, and kinesiology utilizing both the mezzanine courts, obviously the main court, circulating outside the perimeter of the building, I think that, for now, we’ll probably stick with the 3,026-seat arena that we have,” Lamb said. “And then, you know, that would be a great problem to have, if we’re 3,000 [spectators] at every game and it’s an issue, I think we would welcome that. So when that comes, we would gladly tackle it. But for now, those mezzanines will probably stay open.”
Bryant, who has worked at Christenberry since the day it opened, is excited about the inclusion of athletics to the master plan.
“Through the number of years that I’ve been here, this is the first time that a comprehensive plan has been put together for the university that definitely includes athletics as a vital part of the overall plan,” Bryant said. “And I think that’s important as we move forward as this consolidated university.”
Contact Tim Howard at: firstname.lastname@example.org.