WALLA WALLA — Dean Snider walks the halls of Sherwood Center beaming like a proud parent.
And why not?
Whitman College’s newly refurbished athletic facility is everything that Snider, the Missionaries’ athletic director, promised it would be. And more.
From its spacious lobby — where hall of fame plaques and trophies dating back more than a century are proudly displayed — to a massive, enclosed climbing wall on the building’s south side, Sherwood Center shines like a new diamond ring.
What once was fondly known as Fort Sherwood when it first opened its doors in 1968 has undergone a complete face-lift.
Gone are the poured concrete columns and narrow windows that gave the building its fort-like appearance, replaced instead by formal red brick and hundreds of additional square feet of glass. But the facility’s altered outer appearance is nothing compared to the changes that have taken place inside its walls.
Most noticeable, at least to fans who will be attending the school’s varsity volleyball matches this fall and its men’s and women’s basketball games over the winter, will be the flashy, splashy floor of the main gymnasium.
It’s the same 2,000-seat gym with the same sets of bleachers and the same fleet of stadium seats that were added a couple of years back. But the refinished floor absolutely sparkles.
And the huge Whitman College painted logo that adorns center court, an NCAA logo along one of the sidelines and Northwest Conference logos in each key create a big-time arena look.
Add to that a powerful new sound system and two new-and-improved scoreboards and Snider is ready to put his school’s volleyball/basketball facility up against any NCAA Division III facility in the Northwest Conference and most of the country.
"This," he said, "is as good as any Division III facility that I have ever seen. It stands right at the top of the Northwest Conference and is among the very best on the West Coast."
But it’s so many of the other improvements throughout the facility that have Snider the most excited. Because it’s those improvements, he said, that will help his coaches recruit the talent that will make the school as competitive on the courts and the fields as it is in the classroom.
"Our goal," Snider said, "is to be nationally competitive in both."
To begin with, office space in refurbished Sherwood Center has been expanded from 10 offices to 15, and each is light and bright. Included are offices for assistant coaches plus a soft-chair area where coaches can entertain recruits and their families.
One classroom was dismantled to make room for the additional offices, but two new classrooms were included in the 6,000 additional square feet of construction. The new setup also features three dance/exercise studios compared to one before the 18-month expansion took place.
The training room has also been expanded and updated and includes both hot and cold tubs "that no other school in the Northwest Conference has," Snider said.
Another new feature is a video room with a 56-inch screen and surround sound where coaches can break down film on opponents and use biomechanical software to help train athletes in the proper movement mechanics. This room has been named the Seachris Room in honor of the late Max Seachris, a former Whitman College baseball coach and athletic director.
"This is remarkable capability for a small college environment," Snider said of the new video room. "It’s very innovative space that will also help with team building and recruiting."
One of the biggest tasks in the reshaping of the facility was creating a second gymnasium equal in size to the main gym. To do this, workers tore down a wall that separated Sherwood’s former small gym and its swimming pool. The pool was filled and the new second gym was built over the space of the two areas.
"The main gym is 16,800 square feet and our new multi-purpose gym is 16,080 feet," Snider said. "And it’s exactly the same floor."
The second gym will allow coaches to hold practices simultaneously. The area also includes drop-down net batting cages and hitting areas for the baseball and golf teams, respectively.
Snider said the second gym will also be used for inter-mural sports and faculty and staff use. And he also sees the gym being used for AAU basketball tournaments, high school club volleyball tournaments, camps and clinics.
The building’s four racquetball courts and two squash courts were retained, and all six have been resurfaced.
But the single most important change, Snider said, was revamping locker room space.
Instead of men’s and women’s community locker rooms that were shared by varsity athletes, the general student body and faculty and staff, the new Sherwood Center features three separate varsity locker rooms each for men and women plus men’s and women’s day-use locker rooms that can be used by students, faculty and staff.
"As far as our student-athletes are concerned, this is the most significant change of all," Snider said. "This is the one thing they wanted the most."
Varsity athletes will also have their own strength-and-condition room in the revamped facility, an area they had to share with other students, faculty and staff in the past.
Providing these new varsity athlete-only areas became feasible following the addition of the Baker Ferguson Fitness Center to the Whitman campus three years ago. The 38,000 square-foot building is located just up the street from Sherwood Center and includes a 10,000 square foot fitness center that is open to the Whitman community at large as well as a 30-meter swimming pool that replaces the pool that no longer exists at Sherwood Center.
Finally, there’s that darned climbing wall that adds the outdoor adventure touch to that $15.5 million project.
Unlike the old climbing wall that was exposed to the elements, the new wall is under cover and more than twice the size of its predecessor. It has a climbable surface of 7,000 square feet, is 104 feet long and just short of 40 feet high. And it features a variety of routes for all levels of climbing.
New Sherwood Center also has a "green" aspect to it, Snider pointed out.
Skylights throughout the building illuminate spaces naturally, requiring less energy. The red brick exterior that makes Sherwood more consistent with other buildings on campus also covers added layers of insulation. And many of the interior’s wooden stairways and panels were built from campus trees that were toppled during the January wind storm of 2008.
Coaches and other office personnel have already moved into the refurbished facility. Classes begin Sept. 1 and a public open house has been scheduled for Sept. 16.
The first actual competition scheduled in the new Sherwood Center will be Sept. 18 when Willamette invades for a 7 p.m. Northwest Conference volleyball match. However, there will be two earlier non-counting volleyball scrimmages, vs. Multnomah Bible College on Aug. 29 and vs. Walla Walla Community College Sept. 1.
"This is a very exciting time for our 14 varsity athletic teams," Snider said. "It’s a very exciting time to be working at Whitman College."