By Carolo Pascale
THE spiking of volleyballs, squeaking of basketball shoes, slamming of bodies on wrestling mats and screaming crowds are all common sounds that come from inside the Alumni Gym, the home of many Rider athletic programs. With plans for major renovations, the Rider Arena Project continues to push toward its goal of turning Alumni Gym into a modern NCAA Division I arena.
The project, started in 2019, has steadily built momentum after major donations from Rider alumni and has now entered its “final phase,” according to the project website. Rider Athletic Director Don Harnum said that while it is in the last stretch, the school needs $2.5 million more to reach its ultimate goal of $18.2 million to finish the project.
“It hasn’t been the best environment in the last couple years with COVID-19 and other things, but the project as a whole has gone very well. The finishing part we knew was going to be a challenge,” said Harnum. “The first couple phases were for the enhancement of the student athlete and coaching experience and the day-to-day operations of the programs. This one is more the public face. This one’s for the fans. This one’s for the alumni.”
Harnum mentioned the money the school has already received and used for parts of the project, like the practice facility in the back part of Alumni Gym, as well as what the final $2.5 million would do for the school.
“We’ve already spent a significant amount of money on the practice facility, which is all part of the project. It’s just that last $2.5 million that gets us what you’re looking at right here,” said Harnum while motioning to a picture of the concept art for the arena.
When the project is completed, the arena will increase fan capacity alongside a center-hung scoreboard, an entertainment suite, an expanded lobby with concessions, upgraded restrooms and improvements to day-to-day operations for athletics staff and student athletes. Part of the project also goes towards updating the strength and conditioning facilities in the Canastra Health & Sports Center.
The updated arena will be renamed, changing from Alumni Gym to Canastra Arena in honor of the Canastra family, who made a $2.5 million dollar donation in October 2020, the largest donation in Rider Athletics history. There are more naming rights still available, such as the court, the practice facility, conference rooms, offices, and seats.
The renovations are planned to benefit all of the sports programs that the Alumni Gym hosts, such as mens and womens basketball, wrestling and volleyball. The improvements are geared toward making a high quality student athlete experience at Rider and to help make day-to-day operations smoother.
Women’s basketball Head Coach Lynn Milligan said that the changes that the project has already brought have helped her team and staff exponentially.
“The original project started with the video board and upgrades to Alumni Gym itself, which have been awesome. That grew into locker rooms, offices and a practice facility, which have been really game changers for us,” said Milligan. “I can only imagine that the rest of this phase is going to be as good when it happens.”
Once Rider gets the rest of the money for the project, Harnum said the timeline to get the project done would be very aggressive.
“It’s going to have to happen right at the end of the season. We can use the practice facility for offseason workouts and all that,” said Harnum. “But the goal would be to start it about now, whichever year we do it, and have it done by October. Maybe the entire thing’s not done, [but] the ability to bring fans in has to be done.”