Western’s Carver Gym Renovation a Sight to See for Fans

After undergoing an extensive and much-needed renovation costing $70 million and spanning two years, Sam Carver Gym at Western Washington University will re-open its doors — just in time for fall sports. Your first chance to watch a Western team play in the new gym will be on September 19, when Western women’s volleyball hosts NCAA Div. II rival Simon Fraser University.

Events are open to the public, and feature a free shuttle from a convenient on-campus parking lot. After two years of playing “home” games at Whatcom Community College, Western’s volleyball and basketball teams will regain their home-court advantage following completion of the renovation that began in July 2015 with the intent to improve the structure’s stability, create a more coherent layout and add classrooms.

Playing off-campus games doesn’t seem to have hurt Western much — it is coming off its most successful athletic year in a half-century, with both men’s and women’s hoops teams, along with volleyball, among teams advancing to regionals in the NCAA Div. II Tournament (see pg. 10 of Sports Features).

This summer, Whatcom Educational Credit Union signed a deal to sponsor the WECU Court at Carver Gymnasium. The agreement, which runs through 2022, will provide a donation of $50,000 annually to fund scholarships for student athletes.

Although the project brought many design changes, long-time Western fans will still recognize parts of the original complex. Today, Carver dons a new facade of sea-green glass panes beneath its iconic folded plate roof, creating a sunlit entryway to the gym. Some things haven’t changed much — the original brick walls on the gym’s north and south sides remain, and the physical education building still stands intact, tucked behind the gym.

The renovation saw an overhaul of one of Western’s oldest complexes and faced unique design challenges. The physical education building was originally constructed in 1936, back when Western was a teacher’s college, known as the Washington State Normal School. As the school grew and became a four-year university, Western added buildings to the complex to keep up with the growing demand of the student body. The university constructed offices and three gyms in a 1960 addition, later dedicated to Western’s first athletics director, Sanford Carver, and more buildings were added. The result was a pieced-together facility in the middle of campus.

Through the renovation, Western sought to unify Carver into one coherent complex while allowing elements of the historic buildings to shine through. To achieve this, workers removed add-on structures and focused on connecting the 1936 and 1960 buildings with an addition that runs along the west side of the gym. Both the facade and the structural addition were constructed from glass to keep the design simple, so it wouldn’t detract from the original buildings. The renovation also created a new garden courtyard on the gym’s west side.

While many visit Carver for games in the gym, more than 300 classes and labs are taught in the facility each year, and the number of students using these facilities has been steadily growing. The renovation includes new classrooms and laboratories that will support 185 additional students each year.

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"Although the project brought many design changes, long-time Western fans will still recognize parts of the original complex."