Ben Drake stood at the railing at the top of McElrath Gymnasium earlier this week, looked down at the court below and offered this assessment:
"Off the top of my head,'' he said, "I can't think of - besides Buffalo State (Sports Arena) - any other facility that this compares to.''
Drake, Jamestown High School's athletic director and boys varsity basketball coach, isn't one known for embellishment, so the endorsement of the gymnasium, which was built in 1986, carries significant weight.
The McElrath Gymnasium renovations at Jamestown High School are extensive and include interior finish improvements, new digital scoreboards, energy-efficient lighting replacements and locker room upgrades. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photos by Scott Kindberg
"I cannot be happier with the way it is turning out,'' Drake said. "It really has exceeded my expectations. I was hoping that it was going to get a facelift and maybe we'd get a new scoreboard and a fresh coat of paint, but I never even envisioned that it would look this nice. It's really unbelievable.''
No argument there.
The highlights include:
Fresh paint everywhere, highlighted, of course, in red and green, the school colors.
"We maintained the original paintings on the (gym) walls and went back and touched them up,'' Drake said.
A resurfaced basketball court that will resemble the one at the University of Michigan (if you're interested, Google "Crisler Center'').
"I researched it and I liked the classy look of Michigan's floor,'' Drake said.
Once the floor resurfacing is complete, the baselines will be painted red with green letters that say "Jamestown" on one end and "Red Raiders" on the other. A large "J," painted red and accented by feathers, will be dominate midcourt and "JHS" will be in dark stain at each foul line.
Six new baskets (one at each baseline and four practice hoops).
"The backboards go up toward the outside walls,'' Drake said, "because before they came right back (toward the bleachers) and it would obstruct (spectators') view.
"The nice thing, too, is they put the shot clock and the score clock above the backboards. There is LED lighting on the backboards, too. When the clock goes off, that will light up.''
The baskets and their location are controlled by a touch pad mounted on a wall.
New signs, which commemorate the boys basketball program's all-time division/Section 6 championships, the boys/girls hoops Wall of Fame, and the school's division/Section 6 titles in other sports.
Two large digital scoreboards.
"It was something that was on the 'wish list,' but I haven't seen the specifics of what it can really do,'' Drake said. "It will do graphics and pictures, and I believe there's a way you can do video, too. I don't know what the capabilities are (yet). They just put them up last week.''
"It's a lot brighter in here,'' Drake said.
Enhanced sound system.
"There used to be six speakers and now there's 20,'' Drake said.
Freshly painted and renovated locker rooms, which include new stalls, new showers and video screens.
New roof (completed last year), plumbing replacements, insulation upgrades, new ticket booth and concession stand and a couple of new storage rooms.
''The 'phase four' capital referendum for $68 million was embraced by the community in a public vote in 2012,'' said Deke Kathman, superintendent of schools. ''That effort will impact each of our school buildings and will take approximately seven or eight years to complete.''
The project at JHS, Kathman added, has included a ''wide-ranging'' scope of improvements with ''many, many more'' to come.
''We expect to receive state building aid to cover 100 percent of our costs for the JHS project and the other building projects planned in 'phase four,''' Kathman said. '' ... In total, the gym will be much more energy efficient and will be a much improved learning environment for our physical education students, as well as a wonderful showcase venue for our athletic programs.
''We expect the McElrath Gymnasium, and the larger JHS project, to be completed this fall.''
Drake was especially appreciative that Kathman allowed him to ''be in on all the of the design for this.''
''Whenever there was a meeting, talking about the plans for the gym,'' Drake said, ''he allowed me to be there and he really had me work directly with the architects.''
Calling himself "blessed to be part of it all,'' Drake, 41, has fond memories of attending Red Raiders' basketball games dating back to the late 1970s when he and his father, Dan, watched, first, from the original gym at JHS. The Red Raiders moved their home games to Jamestown Community College for the 1979-80 season and they stayed there until McElrath Gymnasium was opened 27 years ago.
Back then, ''the Mac'' was considered a gem.
"We have a lot to be proud of,'' Drake said. "I don't know of any other school district in Western New York that has the overall facilities that we have. By far, this is the best high school gym in Western New York and, perhaps now, in all of New York state."
Even out-of-towners should enjoy a winter road trip to Jamestown, Drake said.
"I think it says a lot about our community and our school district that we have the athletic facilities that we do,'' he said. "When people come - whether they're coming to Strider Field (and the Martin Road Complex) or the gym, - especially for the first time - they just can't believe how nice it is."