Bring in the quick-change artists

Patrick Ewing stands at one corner of the Verizon Center floor and waits for his son, one of the newest members of the Georgetown Hoyas basketball team.

A few people move past Mr. Ewing toward the center of the arena, giving the former Hoyas and New York Knicks great a quick glance of recognition as they pass. Most of the fans already have filed out of the building after the Hoyas’ victory over Hartford on this Saturday afternoon.

A group of workers, meanwhile, gathers on the floor of the arena, their job just about to begin.

The clock shows a few minutes after 2, and the Washington Capitals are scheduled to play a hockey game against the New York Rangers in little less than five hours on the very spot that is a basketball floor now.

Layers below that court, however, rests a sheet of ice, and the Verizon Center staff is preparing to do a quick-time transformation of the building from basketball gymnasium to hockey arena.

The Capitals play 42 home games at Verizon Center, the Hoyas 15 and the Washington Wizards of the National Basketball Association 41. The Hoyas and Wizards use different floors, either of which must be removed before the Capitals can take the ice. The crew at Verizon Center is used to constantly restaging the arena.

Basketball and hockey games, however, sometimes are played at the arena on the same date — there are six such occasions scheduled for the 2006-07 season — and those days can get a little crazy for the staff.

“Normally, we make this change at night, and it might take us five or six hours to do it. When we have to do it quickly in the afternoon, we bring in extra people to expedite,” says Gary Handleman, the senior vice president of arena administration at Verizon Center. “This is our first double change of the year where we have to do this in four hours today. We have a bunch of new guys, and it makes it a little more difficult. When we have our regulars from years past, they know the routine. It is still a little bit of a learning curve.”

Mr. Handleman himself initially knew more about playing on basketball floors than moving them. He played basketball and lacrosse at Johns Hopkins and was chosen by the NBA’s Baltimore Bullets in the 15th and final round of the 1972 draft.

On this day, however, he is overseeing the changeover along with Bill Harpole, the vice president of operations, and Kim Webster, who supervises a crew of 40 during this operation.

Once the patrons leave the arena floor, the group gets to work, and it is organized chaos. Mr. Handleman and Mr. Harpole stand near center court, and Mr. Webster shuffles around to check on each small group as they get to work.

“It is just a matter of planning it, having enough people to do it and getting it done,” Mr. Handleman says. “There are probably going to be six or seven times a year when we have to do this.”

Before the basketball floor can be taken apart, hundreds of folding chairs must be stacked and removed. Temporary risers for Georgetown students and the pep band that sit between each basket and the permanent seats must be taken down and removed.

The actual basketball court consists of pieces of hardwood 4 feet by 8 feet that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece weighs about 175 pounds and must be unhinged from the adjoining parts of the floor and stacked, a two-person job. Another person walks around and drops pieces of cardboard at about 8-foot intervals to place between the floor panels when they are stacked.

While the court is taken apart, workers transform the rest of the bottom level of the arena.

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