Posted December 14, 2016
Karges Center at UW-River Falls will host its final basketball games this winter after more than 50 consecutive years of Falcons athletics, paving way for the Falcon Center to take over operations.
Karges Center has been a staple of campus athletics since its dedication on Sept. 23, 1960. It hosted its first men’s basketball game in November of that year and has been the venue for women’s basketball and women’s volleyball since their respective programs began.
Volleyball Coach Patti Ford has been around for 25 of the 56 years of operation. She described how not much has changed since she arrived at UW-River Falls.
“There’s always been talk of upgrading Karges,” Ford said. “Some of the things we needed weren’t upgraded because we thought we were getting a new building in about five years after I got here. But now 20 years later we’re finally getting a new building.”
The building they’ve been waiting for has finally arrived in the construction of the Falcon Center and Don Page Arena. The Falcon Center will open on Jan. 23 as the basketball teams finish their final season in a gym that has held so many memories.
“It’s a smaller gym so it creates more of an intimate type of arena,” said Cindy Holbrook, the head women’s basketball coach. “We’ve won a lot of games in that gym and once you win a lot of games there, you kind of get attached.”
Ford and Holbrook also credit the cramped conditions of Karges as leading to the crowds feeling bigger and a distinct home court advantage. Interim Athletic Director Crystal Lanning said she believes the support can be even stronger in UWRF’s new arena.
“Page Arena is going to be a dramatic change. We will develop a good fan experience in Page Arena and have the ability to have seating all round and not just on the two sides,” Lanning said.
Both coaches and the interim athletic director agreed on the fun atmosphere that can come from a packed game at Karges. But all three are more excited for what can be done with the new facilities.
“Karges is lacking in ability to run events, but Page Arena will be able to manage multiple events more efficiently,” Lanning said.
“It will take a little time to adjust but I’m looking forward to having more space to run tournaments and able to have more space for practice in the Falcon Center. We definitely have an opportunity to grow our fan base once we move over and start everything new,” Ford said.
The process of moving everything over is one of the biggest impacts of Karges closing. The athletics department will have more available space and can work side by side in the Falcon Center as they finish moving into their new offices in phases.
“Right now the two basketball teams and volleyball team seem very separate to me from the rest of athletics. You forget that we are the only ones still over here (in Karges),” Holbrook said.
The strength and conditioning staff and football coaches will make their way into the Falcon Center this spring. Lanning said she is especially excited about the prospect of a more efficient operation with not having to travel a mile and a half down the road to be where everyone else is.
Karges has stood the test of time without many upgrades since its inception. The project originally cost an estimated $1 million to build in 1958, according to the Student Voice. According to the CPI Inflation Calculator, which is used by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine inflation, Karges would’ve cost about $8 million in 2016. This pales in comparison to the massive undertaking of the Falcon Center, which the athletics department has currently estimated at $61 million to construct.
“We haven’t had a new building on campus since the University Center so this will be the new shining star. Once we get people out there to see it they will be pretty impressed,” Ford said.
But as excitement for one building grows, one will meet its end. The final phase of the Falcon Center project includes Karges being torn down starting in the summer of 2018. Lanning has been told the campus master plan expects the site to sit as green space until additional academic buildings are built in the distant future.
“I don’t think anyone is really gonna miss the old Karges Arena,” Lanning said.
Karges Center will live on in the memories of the coaches, players and fans who have called it home. The Falcon basketball teams both look to chase conference titles this season to give Karges a proper send-off.