BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) In a surprise ceremony Saturday morning, the UVM athletic department broke ground in front of Gutterson Fieldhouse, signaling the beginning of construction on the new Tarrant Event Center and renovations on the existing Gutterson and Patrick Gym structures. The project is expected to take about three years, and will completely revamp the University's basketball, hockey, and student health and wellness facilities.
Saturday's ceremony came as a result of two concurrent events: the first was a donation of $4 million from UVM soccer and tennis alumnus Chuck Davis and his wife Marna, and the second was that donation pushing the total fundraising above the school's $30 million dollar goal to begin the project. The UVM Board of Trustees voted Saturday to allow construction to begin as a result of meeting this fundraising goal.
As a result of the Davis' donation, the new Multi-Purpose Center's Recreation and Wellness Center will be named in honor of Chuck's mother, Phyllis "Phiddy" Davis, herself a UVM alumna from the Class of 1945. The new Victory Club room, which will span a floor of the new building connecting Gutterson to the Tarrant Center, will also be named in honor of the Davis Family.
Saturday's groundbreaking is the culmination of years of planning and fundraising both in and around the athletic department.
"It's hard to put into words the level of excitement I feel. It's thrilling for our student athletes, and the student body at UVM, and for the entire community that's so supportive," said UVM athletic director Jeff Schulman. "To be able to provide our student athletes and our fans and the community with first class facilities they deserve is really something that has been driving this process the entire time."
"We all know that this was a vision and a project at this place for 30 years plus," added UVM Foundation President and CEO Shane Jacobson. "In some sense, there's relief that we finally arrived at this point but I think it renews our purpose in what we're all here for and that's the student body, it's the coaching staff, it's the teams...it's a chance to compete at the very very highest level. And so if anything, I think it re-motivates us that we can continue to do big things."
The Tarrant Event Center has the potential to be a complete game changer for the UVM basketball programs. The women's team has struggled a bit in recent years, but now full-time head coach Alisa Kresge has the new arena to use as a big-time recruiting tool. The impact could be even greater for the men's team, which over the last 20 years gone from regional afterthought to one of the most consistently successful midmajor programs in the country.
The Cats are coming off their third consecutive America East regular season title and 7th trip to the NCAA tournament in 16 years. However, they have only reached the Round of 32 once in that time. Head coach John Becker believes the new arena could be the key to not only sustaining their current level of success, but attracting more of the kind of players they need to advance in March Madness.
"It's gonna be really important for us to continue to push this program forward," Becker said. "To get a facility like we're talking about and be able to bring recruits through and show them our university's commitment to our athletic department...it says a lot about the investment in athletics here so it's gonna be a big deal."
The men's and women's hockey teams will also benefit from a major renovation to the existing historic structure of Gutterson Fieldhouse. What the current Gut makes up for in old school charm is a significant lack of modern amenities like state of the art locker rooms and workout spaces. This new project will rectify those disadvantages by bringing Gutterson in line with more recent and up-to-date facilities which house conference rivals like BU, BC, and Northeastern. Men's hockey head coach Kevin Sneddon believes the new facility could be the first step in catching up with those programs.
"You don't always necessarily agree that a prospect should pick a facility to go to school, right? But reality is its in every sport," Sneddon said. "Everybody keeps putting up bigger and better facilities and we haven't really done anything in many, many years so this will certainly put us right up there and get us in many more competitive recruiting battles, which I'm excited about."