Kentucky Sports

An inside look at proposed Memorial Coliseum upgrades and their possible price tag

Kentucky will play 10 of its 14 non-conference games at home in 2018-19. UK has not yet announced how many will be in Memorial Coliseum (pictured above) and how many in Rupp Arena, if any.
Kentucky will play 10 of its 14 non-conference games at home in 2018-19. UK has not yet announced how many will be in Memorial Coliseum (pictured above) and how many in Rupp Arena, if any.

If the University of Kentucky gets key items on its Memorial Coliseum renovation wish list it will cost the school about $15 million, according to documents released to the Herald-Leader.

A feasibility study commissioned by the UK Athletics Department says that renovating the 68-year-old building at the center of campus could have a big price tag.

Updating the aging facility probably will be an important part of the university’s upcoming capital campaign, which has not kicked off yet.

“I don’t think there’s a time line,” UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said of the Memorial Coliseum project. “My hope is sooner rather than later.

“Part of it is the university has a capital campaign it’s getting ready to kick off and our group is a part of that campaign. Obviously, that would be one of the focal points of our capital campaign.”

Some of the biggest-ticket items from the assessment include more than $3 million for heating and air conditioning upgrades, and nearly $2.2 million for an enclosed club area in the north end zone where a mezzanine and inaccessible bleachers now sit.

Other items like modernizing the restrooms and replacing the yellow, stain-covered ceiling tiles also probably will cost more than $1 million each, according to the assessment done in 2017 by Sherman, Carter, Barnhart Architects and Staggs Fisher Consulting Engineers, Inc.

Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell welcomed the crowd to the women's basketball NCAA Tournament Selection Show in Memorial Coliseum in 2015. Among the potential projects is replacing the ceiling tiles. Amy Wallot

The study, which was listed as being in draft form, was commissioned to “determine the cost of repair and/or renovation" to the facility.

In previous interviews, Kentucky’s top athletics official has said that his hope is to turn Memorial Coliseum into a showpiece for the university similar to The Palestra in Philadelphia.

“Something that’s got some storytelling to it,” Barnhart said of his hopes for the renovated facility. “You let the walls talk a little bit.”

Most of the work outlined in the study, which the Herald-Leader obtained via an open records request, involves maintenance and modernization.

“My fear is there are some things we don’t know about the facility and that that will drive the decision-making pretty quickly because I think you’d have to address those things pretty quickly before you do anything else,” Barnhart said in a wide-ranging interview last week.

The scope of the work includes both internal and external renovations like replacing existing windows and doors, a new entry vestibule in front of the building and replacing the existing doors between the lobby and the playing floor.

Memorial Coliseum is 68 years old. Its current primary tenants are the UK women's basketball, volleyball and gymnastics teams. Charles Bertram

Some indoor changes include removing all west-side bench seating and replacing it with chair-backs, and putting in new hand and guard rails.

The study also priced out removing all existing bleacher seating and providing all new bench seating (about 3,100 seats) on the east side of the facility.

Those seating changes alone, which don’t include the addition of “telescoping seating at floor level” and new ADA-compliant seating, will cost roughly $1.7 million.

New lighting over the court and seating areas as well as within the concourse and the display cases are included in the document.

A new sound system and scoreboard as well as video screens are predicted to cost $1.95 million.

The second-biggest ticket item: The new “Club Area” would remove all existing bleacher seating and tiered concrete rows and aisles in the upper north end of the venue. Those seats have been unused for several years.

The club area would be around 4,300 square feet, and the cost does not include scoreboard removal or the relocation of the athletic department offices during construction, according to the assessment.

It’s unclear if UK can do the renovations in pieces or if it all needs to be tackled at once.

If Barnhart were to say what is important “right out of the chute,” he said the HVAC system, the seating bowl upgrades and the audio/visual components are top priorities.

The contract period assigned for most of the discussed renovations is five months or less, but it does not include how many of these projects could take place simultaneously.

The longest time line provided is 10 months for HVAC upgrades. That part of the project would include demolition and installing four new units, providing new chilled water piping, insulating supply ducts and modifying exhaust and ventilation systems among other parts.

The new sound system and audio video upgrades could take about eight months and would include an upgraded control room.

Nothing in the feasibility study offers a time line for the project or indicates what UK would do about the sports that call the arena home, including women’s basketball, volleyball and gymnastics.

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Kentucky’s Leah Edmond made a play against BYU in Memorial Coliseum during last season's NCAA Volleyball Tournament. Mark Mahan

The venue has a storied history as the home of men’s basketball for 25 years during which the Cats won two national championships and 16 Southeastern Conference titles as well as notable concerts and events of social import.

Evangelist Billy Graham visited the University of Kentucky campus in 1971 for a four-day Central Kentucky Crusade. It was the only crusade visit to Lexington for the man who would become the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history.

The state legislature initially had granted the university approval to spend up to $8 million on Memorial Coliseum renovations if and when athletics raises the money.

But the most recently passed budget increased the authorization total to $30 million. That kind of change is common as the scope of construction projects change, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said.

Many entities are housed in the building, which takes up a full city block and has as much space as a seven-story office building. It also is situated at a place on campus where there is a considerable amount of traffic to work around.

Barnhart’s hope is that the result will be something that can “capture history, traditions and honor the people that the building was built for.

“So I’ve got to figure out how to blend all that in,” he said. “But I think we have a chance to have a really amazing venue that services a lot of different people and has a cool vibe to it.”