It was designed to do it all and to last a long time.
Although Hearnes Center isn’t closing, its time as the home to Missouri basketball has come to the end.
When the idea for a multipurpose complex at MU was proposed, the basketball program was in need of a home. Brewer Fieldhouse, which had served as a home for the Tigers, was becoming crowded, the bleachers made people nervous and the dirt track created so much dust that watching games sometimes became difficult.
John Meyer was the head of architecture for Sverdrup and Parcel and Associated Inc., the project’s designers.
“It was a pretty big job, there were a lot of people, engineers and architects and everything else working on it,” Meyer, 82, said.
It was a rainy winter when construction began on the $10.75 million project on Stadium Boulevard in January 1969. The project was supposed to take about two years, but construction delays held up completion until 1972.
Building the arena proved to be difficult during a spring that had 40 percent more rain than usual. Once the foundation was finally poured, an ironworkers’ strike in the summer of 1969 delayed the structural work for the building for weeks. The project was again halted, this time for a month, in 1971 because of a laborers’ and painters’ strike.
Meyer, who lives in St. Louis, said designing Hearnes Center was challenging because of the amount of things the university wanted in the building.
“The cost was a problem, as it always is on a job of that size,” Meyer said.
“The thing that kicked (the cost) way up was the mechanical system, heating, ventilating and so forth. So we looked into it because we didn’t realize that there was anything unusual that should be that far from our estimates.”
Meyer said it became clear the reason for the higher costs was because of where the mechanical system was, in the trusses above the court. At that height, the base price for the installation increased because the workers were unionized.
To correct the cost problem, the plans were changed and many of the systems were moved down, Meyer said.
The building was intended to provide more space for a growing university, attract conventions to Columbia, and serve the needs of an improving basketball team.
Hearnes Center, which measures 546 feet north to south and 352 feet east to west, has 324,000 square feet of floor space. It rests on 412 piers of poured concrete that are 3 feet in diameter each.
It took 4,600 cubic yards of precast concrete, 3,000 tons of structural steel and 1,600 tons of reinforcing steel to build the 13,611 seat arena and fieldhouse.
Bob Hope presided as master of ceremonies at the dedication Aug. 4, 1972.
Meyer said the contractor was asked to replace the sound system with a higher quality one when the dedication ceremony ended, but Hope intervened when he made his feelings about the sound system known.
“(Hope) said, ‘One of things most of you people won’t even appreciate, but it takes someone like me who’s been in the entertainment business to fully appreciate, is that you have a great sound system here,’” Meyer said.
“The sound system he was talking about was the old one.
“Here they had agreed to pay a couple hundred thousand dollars more as soon as they got rid of this show to put in a better one. We thought that was funny, but we couldn't laugh.”
Like most projects he worked on, Meyer said things changed during the construction. One change involved longtime Missouri coach Norm Stewart.
Stewart wanted a practice gym built above the fieldhouse and was adamant that the height of the gym needed to be 22 feet, Meyer said.
At the same time Meyer was working on the project in Columbia, he was also working on an addition to the U.S. Military Academy’s athletic site in West Point, N.Y. With the help of several cadets Meyer said he established that the average height of the practice gyms was 20 feet.
“We went with the 20 feet because well, how is he going to check,” Meyer said. “It was high enough to meet the requirements of the quality teams in the East, so it should as hell have been high enough for him.”
The first floor in Hearnes was a Tartan playing surface, which was a spongy, gray, synthetic material that was supposed to be easier to maintain than a wood court. The Tartan surface lasted five years before it had to be replaced, and Missouri switched to a wood floor in 1980.
Meyer said there was another reason for the switch from the original surface.
“It had great bounce characteristics and everything else, but there was one thing we didn't realize,” Meyer said. “It didn't make any noise.”
Without noise, the players had a difficult time dribbling, Meyer said.
Meyer said he enjoyed the time he spent on the Hearnes Center project. He said he especially liked working with the project foreman, Fred Kelly.
“He was just the most congenial guy, very, very confident, no putting on airs or anything like that,” Meyer said.
“Like most of the good job superintendents, there were several times during the progress with the work where he would make some recommendations to do some minor changes that were beneficial.”
Kelly knew his way around a construction site, having spend most of his 60 years in the business. A hard worker with a barrel chest, Kelly smoked nonfiltered cigarettes and drank his coffee black.
What Meyer didn't know until the complex was almost completed was that Kelly was hiding something from him.
“All the time he worked on (Hearnes Center) he was a sick man,” Meyer said. “He died of cancer a couple of months after the dedication ceremony.”
Meyer said he has had the pleasure of being involved with construction projects around the world. Some of his more memorable buildings include the Air Force Academy’s field house and Busch Stadium.
Meyer said he doesn’t mind that the basketball teams are moving to a new arena next year.
“I’m just pleased they’re not tearing it down,” Meyer said. “I’m going through that with Busch (Stadium); every time they tear down another section it hurts.”