POCATELLO — Idaho State University unofficially opened the doors to the newly renovated Holt Arena Thursday — with the grand opening coming Saturday when the Bengals host the Northern Iowa Panthers.
For more than a year, Holt has undergone a $20 million facelift — or, as Athletic Director Pauline Thiros called, a “reimagining.”
“We’re very proud of the improvements and are looking forward to sharing them with the community,” she said during a press conference prior to the arena open house.
Funding for the massive renovation project came in part from Idaho Central Credit Union — around $12 million. The remaining funding came from the State Board of Education, which voted unanimously to approve the project and its funding, ISU President Keven Satterlee said.
Why? Because they understand what Holt Arena means, not just to the university and the city of Pocatello, but to the entire region.
“This is the single largest gathering place in this entire part of the state,” Satterlee said. “Holt Arena is weaved into the fabric of this community and this region.”
The events and great memories Holt Area has hosted are plentiful, he added.
And though the renovation plan and its financial commitment were robust, it was met without massive budget overages, despite being met with some unplanned issues.
According to Brian Sagendorf, ISU’s VP of Operations, during the renovation process, it was discovered that the arena required new structural bracing. Those and other changes were made.
“We’ve invested in a facility and infrastructure that’s going to remain sound for decades to come,” Sagendorf said.
While some of those changes will not be visible Saturday, many will. The ’70s-era seats are gone, Thiros said, replaced by newer more comfortable seating. New “premium” sections have been added — including what used to be a storage cage, which has been replaced with a walled structure that will serve as a film room, student study and lounge area and a premium seat that will rival other similar facilities in the Big Sky Conference.
The new “membrane” has been added to the ceiling, covering what used to be exposed installation and infrastructure.
“Aesthetically, it’s beautiful,” Thiros said. “All in all, it is a much more fan-friendly, fan-exciting building.”
The biggest change though, Thiros said, was to the playing surface. The old turf has been replaced with a much more modern style — a $1 million upgrade in itself. This upgrade, Thiros said, will provide a safer experience for the athletes and a more visually pleasing experience for the fans.
“The field is such an important thing for our student-athletes,” she said. “The things that will take place on that field over the years to come are going to be great moments for our community. … The field of competition, that’s a very, very symbolic thing — we’re going to go out there and we’re going to win on it, we’re going to grow our program on that field.”
Asked about changes she wanted to make but could not, Thiros was quick to point out the concourse, concession areas and locker rooms. However, she quickly added that plans are already in the works for the next stage of renovations — hinting toward those potential changes, once funding is procured.
Thiros, a former Bengal volleyball star, was asked about the changes and how they are seen as an athlete considering ISU and as an athlete who played for it.
She said that the changes represent a “clear statement” of the university’s intent to support and properly represent its students and athletes.
“It makes me proud, in a very, very heartfelt way, to see these improvements happen,” Thiros said. “It makes me feel great, as an alumna, of our athletics program.”
She went on to say that everyone should be proud of the renovated Holt Arena.
Satterlee, whose retirement will take effect at the end of the calendar year, said one of the best decisions he made as president was hiring Thiros — a championship-caliber athlete and proven coach, a dedicated Bengal — as Athletic Director.
He also said he is hopeful things like the renovation of Holt Arena and the opening of the ICCU Bengal Alumni Center will symbolize the “intentional thread” of advancement ISU took during his brief tenure.
“We’ve done the same thing by renovating our classroom spaces, by renovating our student study spaces,” Satterlee said. “We have spent the last five years reinvesting in ourselves.”
While addressing a crowd of around 200 people at the open house, Thiros spoke about the investment the university has made in itself, and the commitment the Holt renovation projected showed. And she asked for the community to accept that investment and return in in kind, by attending sporting events and enjoying this reimagined Holt Arena.