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No Pyramid Scheme : Unique New Athletic Facility Has Long Beach State Excited About Possibilities for Growth


Rising dramatically out of the north end of the Long Beach State campus, the distinctive future home of the school's basketball and volleyball teams is still months from completion but has already infused the athletic department with unbridled optimism.

Officials can barely contain their enthusiasm for the potential of the Pyramid, a $22-million structure they say will be unique among campus athletic facilities in the United States.

They believe the Pyramid, scheduled to open with a basketball doubleheader on Nov. 30, will help them attract better athletes, schedule more noteworthy opponents and create a wider base of community support.

"I see the Pyramid as a catalyst for gaining national attention and visibility," Athletic Director Dave O'Brien said.

A promotional video produced by the school to attract sponsors calls the Pyramid "a symbol . . . destined to become one of the most significant buildings in all of Southern California."

Certainly, it is different.

"If we were just building a 7,000-seat gym, we'd have what everybody else has and it would not be the same," said Don Dyer, executive director of the Pyramid and a longtime Long Beach State booster. "But now we have a community landmark and a truly unique building."

It was designed by Long Beach architect Donald Gibbs, who said the school was looking for "a symbol to start a new age and a new beginning," while also hoping to keep costs down.

A pyramid, he said, "seemed to create a point of reference," and was less expensive to build than a more conventional design.

Construction began in January, 1993, with costs estimated at $15.7 million for a facility that will include a 7,200-seat arena, fitness center, educational conference center and athletic offices.

When the four lower-level seating sections are out of the way--they are hinged and can be hydraulically lifted above the playing surface--the beechwood floor will accommodate three full-court and six half-court basketball areas and five volleyball courts.

Believed to be the largest space-frame pyramid in the world, the structure peaks at 178 feet, or about 18 stories. Its exterior of cobalt blue corrugated steel can be seen several miles away.

The interior is open and airy, with the tip of the pyramid about 190 feet above the floor, which is 15 feet below ground level.

The frame, exposed on the interior, consists of more than 14,000 interconnecting tubes, laid out in sub-assemblies of small pyramids measuring six feet in height and 12 feet along the base.

"It's an elegant and resourceful engineering solution that is exceptionally strong and exceptionally stable," Gibbs said. "It's highly earthquake resistant because of its stiffness and its lateral strength."

The university received $11 million in state money to build a campus physical education building and has raised more than $5 million from other sources, including a 12-year, $1.2-million contract with Coca-Cola.

The school estimated that it saved about $2 million by building a lightweight space frame instead of a conventional box design of massive girders and foundations, but cost overruns have left officials about $6 million short.

"It started out as a physical education addition of about 77,000 square feet and it went through its preliminary stages that way," Gibbs said. "But then it grew to a facility of 160,000 square feet.

"It's a very efficient system for (the budget) they have there."

The athletic department hopes to raise about half the amount needed to complete the project from a donor or donors willing to make a contribution for having the Pyramid named after their foundation or corporation.

Still, O'Brien said, it might be five years before the facility is completely finished. Athletic department personnel, temporarily housed in trailers because of renovations in the physical education building, probably won't be able to move into the Pyramid during its first year of operation. Luxury boxes probably won't be built for several years, if at all.

And when the 49er basketball teams open the Pyramid on Nov. 30, with the women facing perennial power Louisiana Tech and the men playing Detroit Mercy on ESPN, seating will be available for only about 5,000.

O'Brien said that he also is inquiring about backup sites for his basketball teams' openers in case the Pyramid isn't ready.

But none of that has curbed the enthusiasm in the athletic department, or kept officials and coaches from promoting the Pyramid. A replica of the facility has been incorporated in the athletic department's logo on everything from clothing and media guides to business cards and stationery.

Coach Brian Gimmillaro, whose women's volleyball team is the defending NCAA champion, said the Pyramid will be the nation's premier volleyball facility because of its extraordinarily high ceiling, no hanging scoreboard and lights that run along the inside of the frame.

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