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Beeghly Center scores $2M seating upgrades

Facility capacity will fall, but quality will rise, officials say

Staff photos / Robert Hayes ... Fans settle in prior to opening tip-off in the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team’s home contest against Green Bay on Saturday afternoon at the Beeghly Center. Opened in December 1972, the facility is set to undergo major seating renovations this summer.

YOUNGSTOWN — When Jerrod Calhoun first became the men’s basketball coach at Youngstown State seven years ago, he had a vision.

He wanted to revitalize the on-court product, turn the program into a winner and make YSU competitive on a Horizon League, regional and even national landscape.

After the best Division I season in program history last year, in which the Penguins set a single-season record for wins and secured their first regular season Horizon League championship, Calhoun has continued to build the program’s on-court success this season as YSU is in contention for another conference crown.

But off the court, Calhoun’s plan for growing the program included bringing YSU’s basketball facilities into the 21st century.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been on a mission to upgrade the facility,” Calhoun said. “It was very behind the times. I think as you bring in recruits and their families, you want things to look really nice. … It’s been in the back of our heads for quite some time that we need to upgrade this arena to have a more friendly atmosphere.”

Since Calhoun’s arrival in Youngstown in 2017, the Beeghly Center has undergone several upgrades. Those include: modernizing and enhancing the men’s and women’s basketball offices and hallways in 2017 and 2018, new lighting in the lobby, updates to the Coaches Court in 2019, enhancements to the weight rooms in 2021, renovating the women’s basketball locker room in 2022, construction of the Korandovich Family Sports Medicine Center and other athletic training improvements in 2023 and the addition of the new academic area, which was completed this year.

Now, one of the building’s largest upgrade projects since it opened in 1972 is set to begin May 6 after spring commencement. YSU will replace the upper and lower seats on both sides of the Beeghly Center with new red seatbacks.

“First, the seats are original since 1972, so it probably starts there. … We have a Division I athletics program — we’ve got an opportunity right now with the success of our basketball program to reinvest. We’re trying to take advantage of that,” athletic director Ron Strollo said. “It helps us recruit student athletes, and it helps us recruit and retain coaches. … The face of your program is the facility, and to a lot of people, it’s also a representation of your campus because that’s what your community sees.

“The other thing with the facility is that it’s used for more than just basketball. We have graduation, and a lot of university events like science fairs and Physics Olympics (there). There’s a variety of different venues, and it gives a good presentation for the university.”

NEW SEATING

The old wooden bleachers on the upper tier of both sides and the existing red seatbacks in the bottom tier will be removed and replaced with new and improved seatbacks.

The student section, pep band and general admission bleachers above the baselines will remain.

Strollo said the new seats will be wider and will have additional depth between rows for increased legroom. The chairbacks in the lower tier will have armrests and cup holders installed into each seat, while the upper tier chairbacks will not have armrests or cup holders.

Additional safety components also are part of the new seating, including handrails up and down the aisles and stairs and guardrails on the bottom rows of each tier. There also will be additional walking room for foot traffic between the upper and lower tiers, as well as wider staircases.

“I always say, when I go to places and you see construction, it’s a good thing,” Calhoun said. “That means they’re building, and that’s what we want to do. It’s kind of like our program, we’ve just been building every step of the way.”

OUTSIDE FUNDING FOR THE PROJECT

The seating project comes at a time when the university is facing concerns and blowback after announcing program and faculty cuts earlier this year. Strollo said the entirety of the project is being externally funded by donations to the athletic department.

Spearheaded by Calhoun, Strollo and other athletic department officials like Rocco Nolfi, who is the special assistant to the Executive Director of Athletics, YSU undertook a vigorous fundraising effort to acquire funding for the project.

“A great coach nowadays is more like a CEO,” Calhoun said. “They’re very big on NIL fundraising, fundraising for your budgets and also fundraising for your facility.”

According to university documents acquired by The Vindicator and the Tribune Chronicle, the seating project is expected to cost just under $2 million.

“Like virtually every athletics project, it’s externally funded,” Strollo reiterated. “We’re not in a situation where the university funds these projects. So we’ve been very fortunate that the community’s really stepped up, and we’ve had a lot of luck here in a really short amount of time — about three months or so.”

Strollo said YSU has received about $3 million total in commitments from donors, with about a third of that already in on-hand cash.

The design and engineering phase of the project was quoted to cost $45,000 by Farnham Equipment Co., based out of Columbus. Then the cost of the seats, which will be provided by Hussey Seating Co.,based out of North Berwick, Maine, and their installation was quoted by Farnham to cost $1.8 million.

Strollo said Hussey has a state contract and previously worked with YSU, providing the red seatbacks in Stambaugh Stadium, as well as some of the seating at the YSU Softball Complex.

Strollo added YSU expects the seating installation to be complete by the time the Penguins volleyball team begins its season in the fall.

MORE PLANS

The seat renovation project is the first phase of a series of updates planned for Beeghly Center in the upcoming years, according to Strollo. Other hoped for updates include the signage in the building, other aesthetic updates, creating a booster room off court, renovating the men’s locker room, installing new video display boards in the arena and eventually replacing the main scoreboard / videoboard hanging from the ceiling.

“Everything’s going to be a two or three-year (project),” Strollo said. “It depends on fundraising. But the most important piece is the seating.”

Beeghly’s seating capacity is 6,300, but it is expected to decrease to between 4,800 and 5,100 once the seat replacement is complete. However, that’s not a concern for Calhoun.

“I think the more you see with ESPN+ and the ability to watch these games on TV and sometimes the weather, you’re not packing it every single night,” Calhoun said. “So losing some seats, I think it’s OK. … But I think once this project is done, it’ll be able to withstand another 20-30 years, and that’s what you want. When you do a project, you want to do it right.”

When the updates and renovations are complete, Calhoun and Strollo said they expect the Beeghly Center to compare with some of the top facilities in the Horizon League, which will allow YSU to continue to grow and be competitive in an ever-changing landscape in college basketball.

“I’m excited; I think it makes our program a top-four job in the league,” Calhoun said. “Ours is one of the oldest buildings in the conference, so in recruiting, we’ve always had to overcome our facilities. Now that’s one thing we can check off. We don’t have to worry about that. We bring them in here — 5,000-seat arena, upgraded locker room, beautiful new theater room, new academic center downstairs, new weight room — we should be able to really maintain and take the program to another level.”

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