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“We’ll all be under one roof”

by IAN BIVONA
Sports Reporter | July 18, 2023 3:04 PM

ELLENSBURG — Built in 1959, Nicholson Pavilion at Central Washington University began going under renovation in the fall of 2021. When the fall quarter rolls around, the new facilities will be available for both academic and athletic use according to CWU Director of Athletics Dennis Francois.

“Nicholson is a shared academic and athletic facility, priority of usage it to academics,” Francois said. “That is our Sport and Movement Studies Department who’s housed here. They have pedagogy, physical education, dance, sport management program, outdoor leadership and things of that nature.”

The renovations to Nicholson Pavilion include expanding the fieldhouse out another 30 yards, featuring a 70-yard, seven-lane straightaway track complete with a pole vault box, as well as a 40-by-70-yard turf field that will be used by outdoor sports teams. The fieldhouse will also be used for many of Central’s academic programs, Francois added.

“That will be one of the biggest enhancements for our outdoor field sports,” Francois said. “Just having that amount of turf space indoors during inclement weather, smoke, air quality issues. Of course December through March, where those sports can be inside where those sports can be inside and practicing in there.”

Other upgrades were done to the locker rooms, expanding the athletic training room by 75%, new offices for the Department of Sport and Movement Studies, adding a new 6,000 square foot varsity weight room and more.

“We’re really fortunate to expand spaces for our coaches, we’ll all be under one roof,” Francois said. “It’s a bigger roof, but we’ll be under one roof for the first time ever. All of our coaches have their own offices, so they’re not sharing with other teams and their GAs. It’s really a great setup for them.”

With the upgrades, Nicholson Pavilion can now hold just north of 3,000 spectators, an increase over the previous limit of around 2,400. Francois said the hope is to be able to host more Great Northwest Athletic Conference events, Washington Interscholastic Activities Association events and more. Central is hosting the GNAC women’s soccer championship, men’s and women’s basketball and outdoor track and field championships this upcoming year.

“Our aim is definitely to expand our offerings,” Francois said. “We definitely want to host more tournaments here. We feel we have a wonderful setup.”

Planning for the renovations began under former CWU President James Gaudino, as the former president managed to secure funding from the state legislature in his final year in the position according to Francois. From there began the processes of pre-design, where estimates, needs for the facility and what the building is to look like; a design phase, where an architect is hired to plan out the structure; and finally the actual construction phase, where Central has been in since October of 2021.

“That’s usually two years for each of those phases,” Francois said.

The process for securing funding went through the Washington House of Representatives as well as the Washington State Senate before being approved by the governor. Francois said this happened through the spring and summer of 2021.

“We were successful in that process, and that was for roughly $60 million,” Francois said. “The maximum allowable construction cost is roughly $45 million, and we’ve added additional funding in there.”

With the renovation project ongoing through the 2022-23 school year, some of the Wildcat sports teams found themselves displaced at points during their seasons. The Central volleyball team was practicing and competing inside CWU’s Student Union & Recreation Center during the fall, and both the men’s and women’s basketball teams played games at Ellensburg High School, Big Bend Community College and Yakima Valley Community College.

“We were very fortunate to have volleyball compete on campus,” Francois said. “However, the courts in the student rec building are high school-like courts, which are 10 feet shorter than college (courts). (The basketball teams) did practice in the SURC, but we hosted games at Ellensburg, Big Bend, Yakima Community College — we were kind of all over the place, but scheduling those was incredibly challenging.”

Some of those challenges included scheduling conflicts once high school basketball season began, as the Ellensburg Bulldogs had their own games to host during the December through February months.

“We knew it would be increasingly more challenging as we progressed through the high school season, especially January and February, so we were very fortunate in order to play our last 10 games in the pavilion,” Francois said.

Those final 10 games — five for both the men's and women’s teams — gave players, coaches, administrators and limited capacity of fans a sneak peek into the ongoing renovations at Nicholson Pavilion, namely the new video board and 50-foot ribbon boards across the baselines, along with a new second floor of seating.

“Those really enhance the environment of our games and give it more of a big-time feel,” Francois said. “That’s what we were shooting for. It was great watching the fans come in through the doors into the actual arena, and they’re just looking up at the video boards, all the new lighting and everything else.

Hosting those final games also allowed the team’s seniors to have the chance to play on their home floor in their final seasons.

“We have individuals Sam Bowman, the D-II Player of the Year, returning All-American; it would have been a shame if she wasn’t able to play some of her last season as a Wildcat on her home court,” Francois said.

Nicholson Pavilion is estimated to be fully functioning in September, according to Francois.

“It’s a facility for our entire community and the state, and hopefully we get a chance to show a lot of people in the state what we have here at Central,” Francois said.

Ian Bivona may be reached at ibivona@columbiabasinherald.com.

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R. HANS MILLER/HAGADONE NEWS SERVICE

After beginning renovations to Nicholson Pavilion in October 2021, new facilities will be added to the school’s fieldhouse, locker rooms, a weight room and indoor track and a turf field to support CWU Wildcat athletic programs both in the classroom and on the court or field.

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FILE PHOTO

Central Washington’s men’s and women’s basketball teams both played home games at Ellensburg High School, Yakima Valley Community College and Big Bend Community College during the 2022-23 season due to the renovations at Nicholson Pavilion.

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COURTESY PHOTO/CWU

The Wildcats will be cheering on artificial turf this fall. The renovations to Tomlinson Stadium, pictured, will include not only the turf but LED lighting, two plazas, upgraded restrooms, new entry gates and a new box office. The budget for the project is about $6 million but current published estimates are at $4.4 million.