Iowa State athletics ‘fully expects’ Hilton to be ready for upcoming sports

Jake Lovett

The ISU women’s basketball season begins Nov. 4, with an exhibition game against Minnesota State, Mankato. The next night, Nov. 5, the ISU men are set to open their season against the University of Dubuque.

But a great deal of work still needs to be done for Hilton Coliseum to be fully recovered for those games to be played on the Cyclones’ home court.

“We’re hopeful that we’re going to be able to return to Hilton on the first week of November,” said Steve Malchow, ISU senior associate athletic director for communications. “We fully expect to meet that schedule.”

Work has been ongoing inside Hilton since flooding filled the building with more than 10 feet of water Aug. 11. 

Malchow said the work at the facility is evaluated and tested daily to ensure the new equipment being installed is functional and that the facility will be safe for use by both the teams and fans at games.

There are tests, walkthroughs or evaluations scheduled nearly every day from now until just one day before the Cyclones’ first game, and any “major issue” in the process can throw the schedule off entirely.

“We fully anticipate opening,” Malchow said. “But we can’t say with 100 percent certainty until we go through each of these tests, evaluations, walkthroughs and approvals.”

Nick Britton, assistant athletic director of event management, has been overseeing the work done at Hilton and has been in regular contact with Malchow and Director of Athletics Jamie Pollard on a daily basis. Britton could not be reached for comment.

Some of the testing done has been environmental and structural testing. However, some things, Malchow said, are as simple as turning on the ventilation systems to find out if the air blows.

Solutions have also had to be found for the functions normally housed in the lowest level of Hilton such as teams’ locker rooms, scoreboards and video board operation.

Malchow said part of restoration plans is finding a permanent home for the production office on a higher level of the building to avoid similar problems in the future. However, with work being done on the building’s structure and safety, scoreboard operation won’t even be addressed full time until much closer to game time.

“We will definitely have game functions — score, shot clock, game clock,” Malchow said. “But whether we’re able to do all the bells and whistles of the video board, we simply won’t know until we probably get into November. That’s probably the one thing that we’re the most uncertain of.”

The ISU volleyball team has already been displaced by the damage done to Hilton, and has played the entirety of its home schedule at the Ames High School gymnasium, a facility that seats roughly 2,000 fans.

It would be no problem for the volleyball squad to close out its schedule at the home of the Little Cyclones, and if there is any problem going forward, it is likely that the ISU wrestlers would begin their home schedule there, as well.

However, ISU men’s and women’s basketball games bring in upward of 10,000 fans, far exceeding the limits of the high school gym. And with just a little less than two weeks before the first game, Malchow said there is not yet a backup plan in place if Hilton is not ready.

If Hilton Coliseum is ready for basketball, volleyball and wrestling in the first week of November, though, it may not appear or function the way many ISU fans remember.

The hardwood playing surface used for basketball and volleyball was completely destroyed by the water inside the building, and the new paneling is tentatively scheduled to arrive in Ames on Wednesday. The floor’s pattern and design will be nearly identical to the surface used in past seasons.

The lower tier of seating, usually occupied by what Malchow called “high donors” will also be different, as the plush, cardinal-colored seats were also lost in the flooding. In their place — until shortly after the first of the year — will be plain, black folding chairs.

Still, the fan’s experience on game day has been the program’s top priority during recovery efforts, and that experience will remain largely unchanged from past seasons.

“Our belief and our hope is,” Malchow said, “that from the fan’s perspective, the game day experience will be very normal.”

However, the behind-the-scenes functions will take on a more “Spartan” existence, Malchow said.

Locker rooms, training rooms and equipment rooms on the lower levels had to be entirely demolished, and work on repairing and replacing those may not resume until later in the spring.

“Our locker rooms will have a nail on the wall and a stool,” Malchow said. “Rather than rush through and haphazardly get our locker rooms rebuilt, let’s deal with a Spartan environment for as long as it takes, but do it right and focus our immediate attention on getting the fans in there.

“We can’t have the games if we can’t get the fans in there. That was an easy priority to make.”