New Orleans — The two buildings are within view of one another, but Xavier University of Louisiana’s old gymnasium and its new convocation center might as well be worlds apart.
That divide will grow a little more this week when the university begins to say farewell to The Barn, home to Xavier’s athletic operations for the past 75 years, and dedicates the new convocation center.
While it’s been a part of the campus landscape for three-quarters of a century, school officials admit The Barn has outlived its usefulness. The arena is a cramped, aging, hangar-like space that has seen better days.
By comparison, the new 93,000-square-foot convocation center is a bright, spacious facility with modern-day amenities that can house not only athletic matches but graduation ceremonies and other events, such as concerts.
“The Barn will always be a part of Xavier’s history, but I look forward to seeing the Gold Rush and Gold Nuggets continue their winning traditions as well as establishing new traditions in the convocation center,” said Norman Francis, Xavier’s president.
The Barn’s last game will happen Thursday when the volleyball team takes the court. Bulldozers will level the gym at some point in the not-too-distant future.
The convocation center officially begins its life on Saturday, when the men’s and women’s basketball teams christen the facility with their first regular-season games. Tipoff for the men’s game is at 1 p.m. It follows an 11:30 a.m. ribbon-cutting.
The convocation center, which is part of the university’s ongoing master plan, has 3,817 permanent cushioned seats and can accommodate up to 4,500 people with other configurations. By comparison, The Barn seated 1,300 people, mainly on wooden bleachers.
A new LED scoreboard hangs above the court in the convocation center, and a VIP suite overlooks the action in the environmentally friendly building.
Ed Cassiere, the university’s sports information director, said anticipation surrounding the opening has been mounting. Recently, 1,400 students accepted complimentary tickets to Saturday’s games.
“We couldn’t have gotten 1,400 students into The Barn because it only sat 1,300 people,” Cassiere said as workers put the finishing touches on the building Tuesday. “Hopefully they’ll show up for that home-team advantage.”
With a $25 million price tag, paid for with government disaster funds and private donations, the university’s athletic department sees a bright future in its new home.
For years, aspects of the athletic department, such as the weight room, lived a nomadic existence. Now the Gold Rush, the men’s teams, and the Gold Nuggets, the women’s teams, will be able to condition, train and dress out in one state-of-the art location. Visiting teams also will find improvements in the form of new locker rooms designed for that purpose. Now, they dress out in a classroom in the lobby of The Barn.
Cassiere saw much of the facility for the first time during a tour on Tuesday. It lived up to his expectations.
“It just looks great,” he said. “For an athletic program that has really had a lot of success through the years, I think it’s something they’ll appreciate.”
Athletic Director Dennis Cousin said the facility should help with recruiting future athletes and restore a bit of luster to a program that collected 39 conference championships in the past eight years.
While he’s excited about the move and won’t miss the problems with The Barn — leaks, faulty wiring that could leave games in the dark — there is a tinge of sadness in Cousin’s voice when he talks about the transition.
“It’s a feeling of tremendous emotion and elation because we got this,” he said. “We’re not getting rid of The Barn. It’s just time to elevate our program. This is more representative of Xavier.”
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