Dunk, Ryan Center update air filtration systems, but it may be a while before fans are allowed back

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s been seven months since fans have set foot in Rhode Island’s event venues due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Even though college basketball schedules are being released, it’s still going to be a while before everything returns to normal.

No fans also means no money coming into these facilities, so a big question is whether it’s even possible financially to have games at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence and the Ryan Center at the University of Rhode Island (URI) with no fans.

“When you look at the operations of these facilities, a few thousand people for hockey or basketball, it just doesn’t work. It won’t work for us financially,” Dunkin’ Donuts Center General Manager Lawrence Lepore said.

At URI, Leah Becki manages both the Ryan Center and Boss Ice Arena. She said they were able to open the latter on Oct. 1 to private rental groups, with only 25 people allowed inside at a time.

“That’s a great thing we have been able to implement,” Becki said. “We have some basketball events coming up and we are still working out the schedule, however. Through December, it’s going to be no fans. We are continuing to work with the COVID task force team to see if we can get fans in January and February for the conference season, however, we don’t know.”

When fans are eventually allowed back into these large arenas, Lepore said people should take comfort in the fact that both places are up to date with top-of-the-line air filtration systems.

“One of the things we did do with the health department is we had some experts come in just recently and look at our facilities as far as HVAC,” Lepore said. “We have the ability to bring in 100% outside air, so we did some tests and I learned a lot. The physicians are looking for a vertical lift so if there is a spread, it doesn’t go horizontally, the air allows it to go vertically, and that’s what we have in both buildings.”

“Our air filtration system, we have enhanced it as much as we can but we can bring in outside air, just like Larry said, and again, these buildings were made for large crowds,” Becki added. “We are working with our Spectra corporate office and our service providers to make sure we can enhance it as much as we possibly can be.”

The Providence Bruins season isn’t scheduled to start until early February, but Lepore said minor league hockey is very dependent on a percentage of concessions and its group sales to “make it work.”

“I don’t see how they could do it without fans, but who knows. Boston might underwrite the whole thing. It’s just a matter of time,” Lepore said.

As for basketball, specifically at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, they have offered to host the Big East Conference tournament in March in a bubble format, much like the NBA and NHL, but this is only if the Big East doesn’t feel comfortable holding that tournament in New York City.

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