|GEORGE M. HOLMES CONVOCATION CENTER
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Standing at the end of Rivers Street, the 200,840-square-foot structure houses the Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science, and includes a multipurpose arena for community and cultural events, graduation and convocation ceremonies, trade shows, concerts, and athletic events.
In 1986, Appalachian State University officials began exploring ways to enhance academic offerings within its department of health, leisure and exercise science and renovate Varsity Gym.
Built in 1968, the gym was designed as a multipurpose facility to serve the campus's 5,500-student population. As the university's enrollment grew and student interest in the department of health, leisure and exercise science increased, the building no longer met the university's academic or recreational needs.
In mid-1987 university officials met with N.C. Rep. David Diamont to discuss renovating the gymnasium. Appalachian received $300,000 from the General Assembly to plan the building's renovation. However, after determining that the project would cost more than $12 million, legislators recommended that a new facility be constructed.
In 1994, with the support of Diamont, Rep. Wade Wilmoth, Rep Andy Cromer, Sen. Sandy Sands, Sen. Fred Folger and others, the Legislature appropriated $9.75 million to begin construction of a student activity center.
The originally proposed site for the center, above the football stadium on a site now occupied by the university's baseball field, was rejected amid concerns that it would negatively impact an area used for environmental study by several academic departments.
That opposition proved fortuitous for the HLES department. As originally conceived, the student activity center did not include any space for academics.
A broad-based committee was formed in the spring of 1994 to determine what type of facility would meet the needs of the university and region. The committee recommended a facility that would support the university's commitment to excellence in teaching and research; support the university's charge to promote the intellectual, cultural and personal growth of students through curricular and extracurricular activities; and support cultural, educational, recreational and other programs of public service to the local and regional community.
From this report, and the input of faculty and others, evolved the convocation center.
An economic impact study completed in August 1994 indicated that the center's construction could generate $5 million in revenue for Watauga County Businesses.
In 1995, Rep. George M. Holmes gained support for a plan to fund over a two-year period the remaining convocation center costs. The Legislature adopted a funding package allocating $20.6 million in 1995 and an additional $5 million 1997. Combined with a $600,000 reimbursement from the N.C. Department of Transportation for right-of-way grading and reserves held by the university, the project was completely funded.
An engineering study completed in 1995 by Ogden Environmental and Engineering Services reported that the convocation center site, located on portions of the former baseball field near Rivers Street and U.S. 321, would have minimal impact on the town's floodway. A flood mitigation project was developed that opened Boone Creek, created a park near the campus entrance that also serves as a rainwater catch basin, realigned Rivers Street and improved rainwater drainage through a series of box culverts near the new site.
By November 1996, architectural drawings were finalized and in October 1997 bids were awarded for the center's construction.
Ground breaking for the new facility was held in December 1997. Construction began in January 1998. In March 1998, Appalachian's board of trustees named the center for Holmes and the arena for Seby B. Jones, former chair of Appalachian's board of trustees and a longtime supporter of university programs and activities.
The convocation center totals 200,840 square feet, including 48,830 square feet of academic space and will seat between 8,500 to 9,313, depending on the seating configuration used. The building can accommodate conventions, trade shows, concerts and athletic events.
The arena is complete with HLES offices, classrooms, state-of-the-art laboratories, team areas and retractable seating for concerts, special events, volleyball and basketball competition and more.
A 300-meter state-of-the-art directional Mondo track circles the upper concourse and is used by the indoor track and field teams for both practice and competition.
The facility was opened with a celebration followed by a men's basketball contest between Appalachian and North Carolina. With much anticipation, every seat was sold recording the first a pre-gameday sellout in school history for any sporting event. The athletics ticket office sold the full allotment of tickets for the inaugural contest in the Holmes Center 12 minutes after opening.
The Appalachian student section is a priority. Student seating is located at midcourt for both volleyball and basketball and helps provide a fantastic atmosphere thanks to one of the most passionate fanbases in all of college athletics.
In 2009, Appalachian Volleyball installed a sriking black and gold Sport Court surface. The modular polypropylene surface has been the official surface of both USA Volleyball and the NCAA for over 20 years and is widely considered the optimal volleyball surface with superior traction and cushioning.
Prior to the 2014-15 basketball seasons, a brand new floor was installed. The new floor was designed with input from both basketball staffs and produced by Prater Flooring of Chattanooga, Tenn. Prominent design features include Appalachian State’s recognizable Block A logo at midcourt, Sun Belt Conference logos in both keys and a predominantly light hardwood finish with darker stain in the non-lane areas inside both three-point lines. In a departure from recent Holmes Center configurations, the court will be oriented away from the scorer’s table to allow for television cameras to shoot towards the team benches.
While the Holmes Center’s original basketball floor was been refinished several times, the new playing surface was the first for Appalachian State’s basketball programs since the building opened in 2000.