MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University’s athletic department has spent the past couple of years rehabbing two major facilities.
It poured $55 million into renovating the 41-year-old Puskar Center, which is the operations hub for Mountaineer football.
It also is repurposing the Natatorium, which had been the home of the WVU swim program for 44 years until the shiny, new Aquatic Center at Mylan Park opened in 2019. With the pool in the Natatorium no longer needed, West Virginia gutted that facility and is turning it into an Olympic Performance Center.
“Those have been our two biggest renovation projects this year,” explained WVU director of athletics Shane Lyons.
Turning the Natatorium into the Olympic Performance Center was made possible because of a $10 million gift from the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust.
“We were in the middle of some of the projects when the pandemic hit. Fortunately, some of that was already paid for,” noted Lyons in an exclusive interview with the Blue & Gold News. “The Olympic Performance Center is being paid 100% through a gift by the Ruby McQuain Trust. If that wasn’t being paid for, we probably would have held off on that project.”
Previous articles in this series with Shane Lyons
The Olympic Performance Center will provide a centralized training home for many of WVU’s 400 Olympic sports student-athletes. Now their strength and conditioning, rehabilitation, nutrition and a variety of other services will take place in the 21,000 square foot Performance Center, which is situated right behind the Coliseum.
Work on repurposing the Natatorium started nearly a year and a half ago and now is nearly complete.
“Progress on the Olympic Performance Center has also gone very well. Most of that will be online when the student-athletes return in August,” said Lyons, who has been WVU’s AD since 2015. “There will be a few things that won’t quite be done (in August). The lockers won’t be in until early September, and a couple of items in the training room are also delayed. But the weight room, the weights and all those were not delayed. That will be ready by mid-August.”
Despite the pandemic, and the financial strain it created for West Virginia’s athletic department, WVU was able to push ahead with a number of other upgrades to Mountaineer athletic facilities in addtion to the Puskar Center renovation and the Natatorium-to-Olympic Performance Center conversion.
“Last year we finished the offices and meeting rooms for baseball (at Mon County Ballpark),” said Lyons, ticking off the list of projects. “We do have some deferred maintenance projects that is going on, but those are normal things. We need to power wash Dick Delsk (Soccer Stadium). The basketball practice facility also needs power washed, as does Cary Gym (the practice site for gymnastics). That will happen. There will be some lifts on this side of campus with some of the cleaning projects. Then the Performance Center will come online. So, the deferred maintenance will continue.”
In 2016, the entire concourse of the WVU Coliseum underwent a major renovation. The hallways were pushed out to allow for better flow, and new restrooms and concession stands were constructed. In the summer of 2020, all the seats, which were original to the 50-year-old building, were replaced and a new videoboard was installed.
“We were excited about last year’s project in the Coliseum with the new seats and the new videoboard, though unfortunately very few people got to see that because of the attendance restrictions,” noted Lyons, who earned his bachelor’s degree from WVU in 1987 and his master’s in 1988. “Now with those restrictions lifted, I’m excited for our fans to see those improvements in the Coliseum.”
Besides seeing the old-new items, visitors to the game-day home of Mountaineer men’s and women’s basketball, as well as volleyball, gymnastics and wrestling, will also find some new-new things.
“There are going to be some new graphics put up around the Coliseum,” said Lyons of recent projects. “Our Legends are all going to be recognized, in addition to the displays already at the Gold Gate. It’s a new addition, as we add the graphics to recognize the Legends with their sport and their years.”
Lyons also has plans for other work in and around the Coliseum, though that’s for a future day.
“I would love to redo the apron, and the Coliseum needs new landscaping,” said WVU’s athletic director. “It also needs power washed and caulked. It’s a 50-year-old building, and some things need done. The (outdoor) concourse itself needs updated as well. Everybody on the staff knows I’m not a fan of the red apron, and as soon as I can, I’m going to change that.”
For now the red apron is staying, though as soon as Lyons can find the money, the red will be gone.
(This is part of a series of articles with Shane Lyons derived from his exclusive interview with the Blue & Gold News. Further stories covering a wide variety of topics will be published in the future.)