The implosion of University Hall has been planned for months. The scheduled date — May 25 — has been passed around on social media, marked as the official conclusion of a historic, bygone era.
Some fans will watch via a livestream starting at 10 a.m. Others will be there in person, bearing witness as University of Virginia basketball legend Ralph Sampson pushes the button that will bring down 5,000 tons of concrete from the building’s trademark clamshell roof.
Eventually the rubble will clear, and UVa administrators will begin in earnest the next step in their athletics master plan. The goal is to transform the free space into a series of state-of-the-art athletic complexes designed to push the school’s sports programs to the next level.
“This will really transform that whole athletic precinct,” said Barry Parkhill, Virginia’s associate athletic director for development and a former Cavalier basketball player.
Much of the work already has been done: Onesty Hall and the Cage, the adjacent buildings to U-Hall, have been demolished. All that remains of the old basketball arena is the roof and minimal supports.
Once it’s gone, the area will turn into a construction site. The master plan calls for several additions, including the building of two natural grass football fields on the land formerly occupied by Onesty Hall, the Cage and U-Hall by summer 2020. By that fall, construction in scheduled to begin on the Football Operations Center and the Olympic Sports Center, which will be squeezed between the George Welsh Indoor Practice Facility and the McCue Center.
The Olympic Sports Center is important, Parkhill said, because U-Hall locker rooms previously were used by nearly 400 athletes on Olympic-sports teams. With the building’s demolition, those players have used lockers in trailers.
The last phase calls for renovation of the McCue Center, the current home of the football program. The plan calls for it to house the Virginia Athletics Foundation and UVa External Operations.
The Football Operations Center and natural grass fields are essential in pushing the football team to the next level, Parkhill said. Football coach Bronco Mendenhall led the Cavaliers to an 8-5 record and a Belk Bowl victory in 2018.
“It shows we want to be competitive,” Parkhill said. “We’re showing a commitment in doing this. If you look around other programs, this’ll really help us get on a level playing field.”
Sampson said facilities are important when building programs, but that’s far from the only aspect.
“I don’t know if it’s totally about the building,” he said. “You have to have all those tools to recruit ... have to really look at the culture and the lay of the land and build upon that. Kids will want to go there no matter what.”
Sampson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1983 NBA Draft and a member of the NBA Hall of Fame, said he and his peers often returned to Grounds in the summers after they left UVa.
“What you got to do is get those guys to come back and be a part of the culture,” Sampson said. “Every athlete came back, spent summers and went with the younger kids ... We don’t do that anymore.”