Schar Center groundbreaking marks "historic milestone" for Elon
The new 5,400-seat convocation center is scheduled to be completed in mid-2018 and will become home to Elon's basketball and volleyball programs.
With a flourish of music from the Fire Of The Carolinas Marching Band and dirt-filled shovels, members of the Elon community marked a milestone in the university's history on Oct. 21 — the official groundbreaking for the new Schar Center.
The celebration paved the way for the construction of what will be the largest building on Elon's campus and the largest complex of its type in Alamance County. The 5,400-seat Schar Center will become a new home to Elon's basketball and volleyball programs and provide a new large-scale venue to accommodate convocations, addresses by international figures, concerts and performances, and other major Elon events.
"This day is a historic milestone for Elon, a landmark day as we break ground for the largest facility on campus," said Elon President Leo M. Lambert. "When Schar Center opens in 2018, we finally are going to have a place where we can bring the whole family together under one roof. And how appropriate that we have this celebration during Homecoming weekend."
The 161,000-square-foot center is named for Elon parents Dwight and Martha Schar P'16, P'19, who made a major gift in support of the project. The center is the largest capital project included in the university's 10-year strategic plan, the Elon Commitment, and is slated to be completed in mid-2018.
Members of Elon's men's and women's basketball teams and volleyball team flanked Elon Athletics Director Dave Blank as he talked about the impact the Schar Center will have on student-athletes and the student body, and thanked the many donors who are making the facility a reality. Planning for a convocation center has been ongoing for many years, with the facility envisioned as a successor to Alumni Gym, the 1,600-seat arena built in 1949 that's been remodeled and expanded multiple times. Blank called it a "game-changer" for the university's athletics programs as a state-of-the-art arena for athletes and fans alike.
"This is a true arena," Blank said. "It's going to have a tremendous recruiting impact, and the amenities for athletes are going to be great."
The addition of Schar Center will allow Elon to more fully embrace its position as a national university, Lambert said, with people from across the country and around the world coming to events there and then taking time to discover the rest of Elon's campus.
Schar Center is being built on a 20-acre site that sits northwest of Hunt Softball Park and was part of the historic Cable family homestead adjacent to the Elon campus. Elon purchased the site in August 2015 with the financial support from Furman Moseley '56 and his wife, Susan.
Site preparation work began in August, with Rentenbach Constructors Inc. serving as the general contractor for the project and Witsell, Evans & Rasco as the lead architect, in association with the sports division of Gensler architects. The design draws largely from the Jack Stephens Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which opened in 2005. Elon officials made multiple site visits during the planning process for the convocation center, with Blank saying that the visit to Little Rock made a big impression. "When we saw it, we said, 'OK — we can see that on our campus," Blank said. "The exterior façade looked like it belongs on our campus."
Schar Center will feature seating above and below a concourse level inside the main arena, which will include eight luxury suites. Along with the main court, the center will include two full-sized practice courts, a weight room and training room along with home and visitors locker rooms. The main concourse will include a large multipurpose hospitality room that can host a variety of events and gatherings and the upper level will include athletics department offices and conference rooms.
Arriving through the main entrance on the North Williamson Avenue side of the Schar Center makes an impression, said Brad Moore, university architect and director of planning, design and construction management. "It's such an interesting design in that you come in the corner of the building, and as soon as you walk through the door, you immediately have a view of the arena itself," Moore said. "The arena has a great feel to it. It feels grand, but it doesn't feel monstrous like the fan up in the top row is in a different time zone."