- Associated Press - Friday, October 31, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Butler’s Roosevelt Jones looked up at the new video board after practice at Hinkle Fieldhouse and said what a lot of other people will be thinking on Saturday night.

“That’s crazy,” the Bulldogs’ junior swingman said. “I never thought we’d have that hanging up in here.”

But Jones gives it an enthusiastic thumbs up. Butler officials are hoping fans and donors do the same during Saturday’s exhibition game against the University of Chicago, when most will see for the first time just what the $36 million renovation of the 87-year-old gymnasium looks like.

Capacity has been cut from 10,000 to 9,100. The gym that once was filled with bleachers now has about 4,500 chair back seats. That includes nearly all the bottom two levels except for some bleachers reserved for student seating. There are handrails in the aisles. There are smaller scoreboards in each of the four corners in addition to the main video board above midcourt.

But the court remains the same. The arched roof wasn’t touched. The iconic windows are still there. In fact, they were replaced and upgraded with new ones.

“When we started renovations, people would ask, ‘How could you change Hinkle and the look and all that,’” Butler associate athletic director Ken LaRose told The Indianapolis Star (https://indy.st/1wNg6O1 ).

“That (not affecting the charm) was our goal, too,” he said. “We wanted to improve the student-athlete experience and the fan experience without compromising the integrity of Hinkle. We think we’ve accomplished that.”

Most of the renovations won’t be visible to the casual fan, however.

A pool once was attached to the west end of Hinkle, but it was abandoned about 15 years ago because the cost to maintain it was prohibitive. The athletic department has since used it primarily as a storage area.

But during the renovation, it was converted into a three-floor area that includes a new workout room on the bottom level; an academic center and a training facility - which LaRose said was six times larger than Butler’s previous training facility - on the second floor; and Butler’s athletic administrative offices and a few coaches’ offices on the top level.

The men’s and women’s basketball offices are adjacent to their respective locker rooms just off the Hinkle floor, but they have been upgraded. The men’s basketball locker room has been expanded and Butler has a separate video room for the first time. It was funded by a donation from former Butler standout and current Utah Jazz player Gordon Hayward.

“The scoreboards on the side are new, but it still has a historic feel,” Butler senior guard Alex Barlow said. “It still has a lot of modern upgrades that fans like to see. If you see the locker room and the weight room and the training room, it’s come a long way since I’ve gotten here.

“They’re awesome. I think they’re as good as you can get.”

Added sophomore teammate Andrew Chrabascz: “It’s unbelievable. I got chills when I first walked into Hinkle. One of the reasons I came to Butler was because of Hinkle. With the renovations now, we’re spoiled. We know that.”

The renovations come at an interesting time for Butler and its flagship sport. The Bulldogs made back-to-back runs to the national title game in 2010 and ‘11, but went just 14-17 and 4-14 last season in the Big East, its first year in the powerhouse league.

Athletic director Barry Collier noted the school began planning for the renovations in 2009 - when Butler was still a member of the Indianapolis-based Horizon League - but agreed they are important in keeping up with better-funded rivals.

“We do think we need to have quality facilities to attract quality student-athletes,” Collier said.

Butler officials were limited in what they could do to the outside of the building because Hinkle is a National Historic Landmark. It won’t look any different to fans on Saturday night.

Collier said they tried to be respectful of the past on the inside. For instance, the athletic department looked at installing a giant video board similar to the one at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They opted for a smaller one.

“We didn’t want it to look like a spaceship was hovering over the court,” he said.

Collier noted that Butler and Xavier are the only two Big East programs that play their home games entirely in on-campus venues. He’s hoping that combined with the new upgrades will give Butler an advantage in recruiting as well.

“I think the situation with our building is just unique,” he said.

The renovation required Butler to become compliant with the American with Disabilities Act, so Hinkle has increased seating for disabled fans. There are murals celebrating great players and coaches throughout the years. Fans are likely to notice more modern restrooms as well.

But there are subtle touches that serve as reminders of the past. Signs reading “Caution: Running Down Ramp is Dangerous” remain. The interior walls are still the original brick. The renovations aren’t quite finished. Workers were still busy in the corridors of Hinkle on Thursday evening, so there may still be some dust when fans arrive on Saturday.

It’s difficult to mess with tradition. But in the end, Butler officials think the changes are necessary to attract the quality of athletes to compete in the Big East and to continue to draw fans in a crowded Indianapolis sports market.

“There’s no question it helps in every facet of your program,” interim coach Chris Holtmann said. “It’s helps with your current players because they see progress and growth. They’re excited to be a part of new things.”

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

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