"A great day for the Virgin Islands" was the theme sounded by speakers at the opening ceremony for the new University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center. The project, more than 10 years in the making, saw its culmination this weekend with several events to inaugurate the 64,000-square-foot facility on the UVI St. Thomas campus.
Saturday's dedication ceremony had remarks from dignitaries, including Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, who said he felt such a kinship with the university that when he entered the campus, he thought of himself as "Professor Turnbull, not Governor Turnbull."
Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd predicted the opening of the sports center will see the beginning of prosperity for the V.I., drawing sports teams and enthusiasts to the territory.
"We've got the climate and atmosphere," he said, "and now we have the facility."
Liburd and others called on the community to support activities at the center, including NCAA basketball tournaments already scheduled for Thanksgiving and Christmas 2001, according to Peter Sauer, the university's newly appointed athletic director.
Sauer, who was hired in September, faced a "trial by fire," according to UVI President Orville Kean, entering the game just as the center was nearing completion.
Kean was in high spirits Saturday, begging the audience's indulgence as he thanked all the people involved in building the center and using metaphor after metaphor to describe the roles played by various individuals. Over them all was Zeus on Mount Olympus: Leo Francis, director of facilities at the university.
Kean even mixed his metaphors, saying, "If the devil is in the details, then Leo Francis is an exorcist."
After the ceremony Francis said he had worked closely with Werner A. Mueller, senior associate on the project from the design firm Daniel, Mann, Johnson and Mendenhall.
Francis described how the project went from a $16 million budget to $10 million. He and Mueller worked closely with the Office of Insular Affairs particularly Rosie Bable to analyze how to scale it down while still meeting the requirements. Of the $10 million spent on the facility, $7.1 million was federally funded with the help of the Interior Department and Insular Affairs.
Francis said the bids were so high that the job was broken down into 20 "packages," and he took over as the general contractor on the job. Francis guessed that saved the university at least $2 million.
The package idea meant each segment of the interior was handled by a specialist, necessitating a redesign that would ensure no overlaps or holes either one of which would have been expensive, according to Mueller.
Mueller came in for the dedication to "see the island." In the four years he worked on the project, he never got any further than Charlotte Amalie.
But, he said, "Yesterday we went to St. John."
From here Mueller is off to Nigeria to work on the design of the American Embassy in the capital, Abuja.
The first basketball game, between the UVI Bucs and the Universidad Metropolitana de Puerto Rico, will be played in the sports center Saturday night starting at 7 o'clock.
Play will continue at 12 noon Sunday and 10 a.m. Monday with the return of the Knight Quality Stations Martin Luther King Jr. Invitational Basketball Tournament.