These days, the Gil Bishop Sports Center, named for a visionary who helped build Bakersfield College, has become a mass of concrete that is difficult to maintain, and has aged visibly since its construction in the 1950s.
Truth be told, that’s been the case for years, as it has for dozens of aging buildings on BC’s northeast Bakersfield campus, including Memorial Stadium, the school’s most iconic building.
Fixing these buildings is an expensive undertaking. The estimate to repair and modernize Gil Bishop Sports Center, which feels like a time capsule in places, is $40 million. The Kern Community College District hopes for a solution in November: a $502.8 million bond measure. The local ballot initiative will need 55 percent approval from voters for passage.
The reasons the college is asking for that large of a sum (some of which also would be used to modernize Porterville College and Cerro Coso Community College in Ridgecrest) has as much to do with the history of the buildings as it does BC’s vision for the future.
Point of origin
J.B. “Cap” Haralson and Gil Bishop planned big for Bakersfield College, and delivered.
The two men largely oversaw the construction of BC athletic facilities when the school opened in the 1950s. The result was a state-of-the-art playing field, Memorial Stadium, which was the first facility completed on the new campus. The first game took place there in 1955, a year before the first classes were even held.
The spacious gymnasium was the second facility completed. Both athletics facilities were huge by community college standards and remain so today.
For decades, fans flocked to the two sports venues. But as the crowds have dwindled in recent years, so too have the two facilities deteriorated. Today, both are in need of major repairs and modernization.
That’s a theme throughout the 60-year-old campus.
“It’s not fluff; it’s need,” said Sandi Taylor, who is starting her 27th year at BC and her fourth as the Renegades’ athletics director after 23 years as the school’s head softball coach.
“We have science labs that have not been touched in 60 years. You can’t teach science in this day and age without some modernized equipment. Campus-wide, it’s just old, and there’s things that have never been able to be repaired and updated.”
Making a wish list
A draft proposal presented during a KCCD Board of Trustees meeting June 30 included more than 200 projects the bond could address, with a price tag that topped $670 million. Almost $100 million was earmarked for projects serving athletics and physical education at the three colleges.
That list is only a guide. District officials say final decisions on how any bond money will be spent will be determined only if the bond measure passes.
BC’s wish list, which also includes the Weill Institute and Delano Center, contains 125 items totaling just under $443 million.
Some 15 athletics and physical education items totaling $64.8 million are on the list.
The big ticket items are $40 million to modernize BC’s gym, the Gil Bishop Sports Center; $12 million to modernize Memorial Stadium; and $8.5 million for construction of a women’s athletics field house.
Old and outdated
Taylor took a group of people around the Gil Bishop Sports Center on Thursday to illustrate the deterioration of the building.
Walls and concrete floors are cracked in spots. Hallways are far wider than necessary.
Uniforms and assorted types of sports equipment are folded into cardboard boxes and plastic tubs. Miscellaneous items are stored behind locked doors and in corners near stairways.
The men’s and women’s locker rooms have undersized lockers that don’t provide enough room for students to easily store their personal belongings while they’re participating in an athletic event or activity class.
Showers are operational but need repairs that can’t be completed because the fixtures are so old replacement parts are no longer available.
The women’s locker room restroom has 11 hair blowers attached to the wall. None work, and they’re so outdated repair parts aren’t available.
And the Gil Bishop Sports Center has no classrooms.
“It’s old. It’s outdated,” Taylor said. “I don’t know how else to describe it.
“We’ve done the best we can with everything. We’ve painted every nook and cranny. But the reality is, it’s outdated. And there comes a time when the Band-Aid is not cutting it.
“Everything we have is about half the size we need it to be.”
The Gil Bishop Sports Center hosts intercollegiate basketball and volleyball contests, but it’s also heavily used by physical education classes. Taylor said about 4,500 PE students use the gym from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on school days before sports teams practice or have games in the afternoons and evenings.
“That’s compared to 3,600 we had in 2011-12,” Taylor said.
There were approximately 3,000 students at BC when the campus opened in 1956. There are about 27,000 now.
BC didn’t offer any intercollegiate women’s sports until 1977. The college now has 20 intercollegiate sports.
“There were athletics then, but not the same as today,” Taylor said. “This was not designed to house 20 intercollegiate teams, that’s for sure.”
Demolishing the Gil Bishop Sports Center and rebuilding it hasn’t been discussed.
The Kern High School District has budgeted about $15 million for a 2,000-seat, 42,525 square foot gymnasium at North High, so Taylor said the $40 million on the wish list might not be enough for a total rebuild.
“I don’t know if you could tear it down and build a new one at that amount of money,” Taylor said. “This is a three-story cement building. The footprint for this building is huge.”
So many needs
Making the Gil Bishop Sports Center and Memorial Stadium compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act is going to be expensive.
The only handicap ramp in place at either facility is located on the northwest side of Memorial Stadium below the Romain Clerou Field House. Few spectators enter the stadium at that location.
Inside the Gil Bishop Sports Center, there’s a small elevator that connects the gym floor to the second level of seats, which is at ground level as fans enter the facility from the Mount Vernon Avenue side.
There are no ramps connecting the three levels inside the Gil Bishop Sports Center, and there is no elevator anywhere in Memorial Stadium.
“I’ve had requests, crazy requests, to carry people up the stairs in their (wheel)chair,” Taylor said. “We’re not ADA compliant with the stadium, and so accessibility to the stadium is a problem and access to the restrooms is a problem.”
Women competing in athletics or PE classes have one dressing room facility at BC: the women’s locker room inside the Gil Bishop Sports Center.
The proposed $8.5-million fieldhouse is slated to be built between the Clerou Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium.
The Clerou Fieldhouse, a football-specific locker room, was built in the 1970s and named after BC’s longtime team doctor.
The BC baseball team has its own locker room, the George Culver Clubhouse, named after the former BC and Major League pitcher who has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Renegade baseball program.
The proposed women’s fieldhouse would give BC’s intercollegiate women athletes their own dressing area apart from the lockers used by PE classes and the swimming facility.
Wait and hope
Now the KCCD plays a waiting game until the November election.
“We pretty much have our hands tied with what we can do,” Taylor said. “We really, really hope this thing passes. The next 50, 60 years, this place isn’t going to hold up.”
Taylor said she’s glad Haralson and Bishop envisioned the large-scale facilities that became a reality in the 1950s.
“I love the fact that they dreamed big,” Taylor said. “And we want to continue to dream big. It’s just that we have outgrown their vision. So we want to have our own vision of (a sports complex to serve BC over) the next 60 years.
“What will it be like in 60 more years? How many more people are going to be here then?
“We’ve tripled in population since I came here in 1990. What’s it going to be like in 60 more years? We want to dream bigger.”