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Lee, UALR get quick fix on water

Jun 13, 2024Jun 13, 2024

When University of Arkansas-Little Rock Athletic Director George Lee saw who was calling, he knew there wasn't going to be good news from the other end of the line.

Why else would head women's basketball Coach Joe Foley be calling Lee at 10:45 a.m. last Friday, two days before Christmas?

Turns out, the news was even worse than Lee could've anticipated.

That phone call alerted Lee to a flood inside UALR's Jack Stephens Center, the result of a ruptured fan coil inside the building's air conditioning unit. Between Thursday night and Friday morning, temperatures dropped below single digits, and as Lee explained, a flap on the unit was supposed to shut once it got that cold.

Instead, the flap was frozen and water ran out of a mechanical room near the building's southwest corner, flowing down the stairs and to the arena's lowest point -- the basketball court.

"We were looking at it [last] Friday early afternoon when I was out there," Lee told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "They were trying to squeegee the water off, they had a big Shop-Vac thing vacuuming water off. We started looking and we pulled the edge of the court up and under the court, it was full of water from one end to the other."

The hope was that with the water shut off, perhaps things would dry out over the weekend.

But by last Monday night, UALR Facility Director Leslie Hutchins and the school's insurance adjuster agreed: The floor was a total loss.

"When I got to the area where the water actually came down, the court was probably four to five inches off the floor buckled up at that point," Lee said. "I still wanted to see what it looked like, so I started walking out onto the court and I about broke my neck because I quickly found out that it was like mountain ranges, going up four or five inches and then going back down almost every foot."

At that point, the only remedy was to remove the hardwood and rubber padding below to let the concrete base completely dry. That was going to take until at least Monday, so the Trojans needed a place to play their Ohio Valley Conference opener if they weren't going to go on the road.

Fortunately, Lee had a relationship with Simmons Bank Arena. Although UALR hadn't called the 18,000-seat multipurpose venue in North Little Rock home for nearly two decades, the Trojans quickly arranged to play their men's and women's games against Tennessee-Martin there Thursday night.

There was some thought that UALR would borrow Simmons Bank Arena's court for the remainder of the season. But when it became clear that it wasn't going to be the best option for either party, Lee got connected with Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Praters Flooring.

The company, which owns several portable basketball courts, is frequently utilized for early-season special events -- be it in a ballroom in the Bahamas, on an aircraft carrier in San Diego or at a convention center in Maui.

One of those courts will soon be adorned with all of the Jack Stephens Center's typical logos -- including the Ohio Valley Conference insignia in the lane and the recently-added "Joe Foley Court" wordmark -- and the expectation is that it will be fully installed by late Monday.

Lee said the temporary court will likely cost between $50,000 and $60,000 for the next two-plus months, and he added that playing at Simmons Bank Arena on Thursday alone cost about $50,000.

Although Lee didn't know how much a new permanent floor would cost when UALR puts one down during the summer, he pointed out that when the school put a new court in its Trojan Fieldhouse in 1999, it cost $225,000.

All of those expenses are expected to be covered by insurance. Lee credited Hutchins for simultaneously dealing with water damage in several places around UALR's campus.

"Arkansas facilities are not built for 3 degrees, but when you get to 3 degrees, some things happen that you're not expecting," Lee said. "There are all kinds of problems all over the southern part of the United States from this storm.

I don't think there's anything anybody should look at and blame. I think it's one of those things where we're just going to have to deal with it and move on."

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