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DURHAM, N.C. – One of the most rewarding experiences for an architect comes when the client moves into a new building and begins to discover some of the special nuances that might not have been obvious during the planning and construction phases.
“It’s always interesting when you do projects because you are having so much fun visualizing and going through the process of extracting the needs from the owner and trying to overlay your own creativity over the top of that,” says Fred Perpall, the principal architect for Beck, the general contractor for Duke’s newest athletics structure, the Michael W. Krzyzewski Center - Dedicated to Academic & Athletic Excellence.
“But you know as you go through it that maybe you are communicating only 60 or 70 percent of what it’s actually going to be like, and that maybe 20 or 30 percent of the vision is getting lost in translation. So it’s always neat to come when the building’s done and all of those little ah-ha’s that the end user may not have recognized start to show up.
“It’s also kind of bittersweet, though, because it’s kind of like a child. You’ve reared it, you’ve given it a lot of love and attention, but now you’ve got to turn it over and it becomes someone else’s child.”
For the past couple of weeks, Perpall, Beck and all of the various entities that have been involved in developing the Michael W. Krzyzewski Center have been turning their 56,000 square foot child over to its permanent custodians, the Duke athletics department. After several years of planning and fundraising and 18 months of construction, the new facility is now a reality.
The men’s and women’s basketball programs have already started utilizing the training facility. The massive special events hall comes on-line this week when the building is formally dedicated, and the academic center should be occupied before the month is over.
Those are the three main components of the building, which has been referred to as the Center for Excellence throughout most of its long incubation period. Now that the doors are opening, it might as well be referred to as the Center for Exclamation Points, given the rave reviews it has received.
“The facility is awesome. It’s a big-time place,” says Duke basketball captain DeMarcus Nelson.
“The new facility is unbelievable. Everything is first class,” adds point guard Greg Paulus.
“Our guys are like little kids, they just got a toy for Christmas. Everybody’s excited about it,” notes assistant coach Chris Collins.
“It’s a great building. It’s not a good one, it’s a great building,” says the namesake, Mike Krzyzewski. “It’s uplifting. Everybody — the players, the coaching staff, the support staff — when you walk into it, it makes you feel better.”
It has also been a long time coming. The idea of creating a practice facility for the two basketball programs has been around for several years, even before Krzyzewski’s involvement with the Los Angeles Lakers a few summers ago brought it to the forefront. The university approval process was protracted and hinged partially on the athletics department’s ability to raise all of the funding, about $15 million, before construction could begin. The design itself went through numerous revisions even after the 2006 groundbreaking. Krzyzewski admits that initial campus resistance and the many roadblocks the project faced forced its proponents to continually refine the center’s priorities.
But now the multi-purpose structure is set to do what it was intended to do all these many years — service the needs of Duke’s entire student-athlete population.
“A lot of folks look at this as strictly a basketball practice facility and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” says associate athletics director Brad Berndt, who oversees Duke’s academic support operation.
“We’ve got 26 sports at Duke and about 620 athletes, and all of these student-athletes are going to benefit from the new academic support center. It’s just a tremendous facility when you look at the additional space we’ve got — tutorial rooms, dedicated study space, computer lab areas and offices for our professional staff. We’ve gained almost triple the amount of space that we currently have, and it’s going to be outstanding for all of our student-athletes.”
All 26 sports are also represented in the special events portion of the building. The new banquet hall, which can accommodate parties of 300 or more and will be ideal for pregame receptions, features a display that includes photographs and historical data about every Duke program. “We wanted to talk about and show pictures of when all (the sports) started, and show past athletes and present athletes, to show that this facility is a unilateral open facility to all student-athletes on campus,” explains graphic designer Mark Schmitz of ZD Design.
The special events area overlooks, through a pair of one-way windows, the heart of the building, which is the new basketball training space. Duke’s two teams now have at their disposal two full-length basketball courts positioned side-by-side, surrounded by a mammoth weight room, a cardio room for aerobic workouts and a theater for watching game video and scouting reports.
The courts themselves are virtual replicas of Coach K Court in adjacent Cameron Indoor Stadium — an identical support foundation, the same maple wood flooring and the same color trim. There are also four baskets positioned around the sides of each court, giving the facility 12 total baskets. Those are major additions for Krzyzewski and women’s coach Joanne P. McCallie, because now their players have all the hoops they need to use for specialized workouts such as free throw shooting.
“We play with practice guys so we have almost three different squads,” says junior Abby Waner of the women’s team. “With two courts, you can get more games going and get in more drill work in less amount of time.”
“For drills you could put the big men on one side, but if you wanted to do the guards fullcourt, you can’t do that in Cameron, because everything there is halfcourt,” Krzyzewski says. “Your imagination and what you can do with drills, shooting, everything — there’s nothing that can stop you. It’s there. There is tremendous flexibility and anyone would love that.”
There is also the flexibility of being able to practice whenever it is convenient for players and coaches, without worrying about the many other uses of Cameron Indoor Stadium. In the past, the men’s and women’s teams had to juggle practice times to avoid conflicts with each other and other sports. The past two years, the men’s team couldn’t even get its own floor for the start of preseason practice — two years ago they had to open at the Emily Krzyzewski Center in Durham, and this year they had to wait until after 10 p.m. on a Friday night due to a volleyball game in Cameron.
Now, most scheduling difficulties are removed from the mix. “The main thing it does for our team is that any time a youngster needs to work on his game or we need to work with him, there’s never an interruption,” Krzyzewski says. “We’ve never had that, ever, because Cameron is so wide open. It’s public. There are people always walking around, and a lot of times there are events happening in it.
“Now, at any time, on any day, a men’s or women’s basketball player can do what they should be doing — working on their game to get better. That’s a great commitment our athletic department and our university have made to our two programs.”
“We have Card Gym, which has been there forever and that’s cool because it has the historical aspect,” says Waner, “but now to have a state-of-the-art gym where there are no conflicts, where you can work out while the men’s team is practicing in Cameron, with all the baskets so you can get more than one person in here at a time — it just makes for a lot more opportunities and makes it easier to get more workouts in.”
There are also several amenities, such as the fine detail in the video theater, the widescreen televisions in the cardio and weight rooms, an alumni locker room for former players to use when they train at Duke in the offseason, and even iPod connectors in the weight room so players can pump in their own music while they are pumping up.
“I think it’s going to be great for player development and give us another place to work out and train when the women are on the court or there’s something else in Cameron. It’s going to be a great thing for us,” says Nelson.
Construction began in September 2006 when trees were cleared from the wooded lot between Cameron and Jack Coombs Field. But planning had been well underway before that. The Blue Devils have practiced or played at numerous NBA arenas over the past several years, and oftentimes members of the basketball staff would photograph or shoot video of the various facilities they visited to generate ideas for their own training center. Practice facilities from Portland and Golden State on the west coast to Chicago and Detroit in the Midwest to Miami and several others on the east coast had an influence on Duke’s blueprint — plus many of the newer college facilities they visited.
“Obviously we’re biased, but we feel it’s as good a facility as there is, not only in college but the NBA,” says Collins.
Mike Cragg, the associate athletics director for basketball, was the program’s point man for the project. He organized those early developmental efforts, coordinated much of the interaction between Duke and the construction and design firms involved in the building and worked closely with the fund-raising element.
One of the keys in bringing it together was involving all of the potential users with the design team at Beck. “It was a coordinated effort, there were a lot of meetings, we were able to give a lot of input and they personalized the building,” says Krzyzewski.
“We asked Brad Berndt of academic support, what would you like? How many times has someone asked what would you like and how can it fit? So there is a lot of ownership to the building by our athletic department, which is what we wanted. We didn’t want it to be, oh, they’re just putting two basketball courts there. That is not what we wanted to have out there.”
“Without Coach K’s vision and the vision of Joe Alleva and Mike Cragg especially, and the day-to-day work of Pete Romeyn, who is the university architect, none of this would have happened,” Berndt notes. “They came to me early in the process and really asked me to dream big, which I thought was unbelievable, and we got a great facility because of that. It was a collective, group think-tank. We got everything on paper that we thought would be most effective for our students, and the architects and everyone else did a great job and now we’ve got a tremendous facility.”
Perpall said his firm had done several recreation projects in the past but this was its first college basketball practice facility. Their relative naiveté in that area forced them to focus more on Duke’s needs and “dial into more of what Coach wanted. So in that way we became kind of a reflector of his vision rather than an implementer of our vision.
“As architects we always start off thinking about solving the problems,” Perpall adds. “When we got here we were thinking about all the components of the space. We had three very different components — the basketball facilities and their support spaces, the events center and the public nature of that, and the academic spaces which had a different kind of priority. But in our first meeting with Coach K, he was able to reframe that pretty quickly. The main goal of this was to have a facility where relationships could form and people could have casual interaction. Our goal was to have that warmth and the casual interaction reflected in the architecture, so people had spaces that were intimate and (provided) comfort so they could grow relationships, not so much the technical stuff.
“As far as influences, we took a lot of cues from the existing buildings. We wanted our building to fit in well and match the context of the other buildings. We wanted it to honor Cameron. Cameron is kind of like the Holy Grail, so we didn’t want it to be in conflict, we wanted it to have a lot of harmony. And when you look at the building I think it serves well to honor the existing buildings that were here before.”
DeMarcus Nelson has been around since before the trees were cleared and the foundation set, so he has seen the Krzyzewski Center grow up and is glad to have a chance to use it before graduating this year. Other Blue Devils are equally pleased to know the facility is part of their future.
“It’s so cool to be a part of this, especially because it’s so nice,” says Abby Waner. “To be the first team that is a part of this, along with the men’s team — you know we’re really lucky here at Duke because there are so many great opportunities, and this is only one of them.”