Regarding Merner upgrade: Long overdue. The balcony seating is still a big drawback. My assessment of CCIW basketball venues (before Merner upgrade):
Top 3 (take your pick): IWU, Wheaton, Carthage (IWU could use some chairback seats)
4) Augustana (close 4th)
6 & 7) North Park and Elmhurst
8) North Central
I haven't been in all of these gyms but I would definitely take North Central over North Park. There's something to be said for atmosphere.
First of all, with regard to the ranking of CCIW member school gyms, I think the Carthage gym is, by heads and tails, the Taj Mahal of CCIW facilities. I wouldn't doubt its one of the top 5 or so in the country. And, one of the gyms I've experienced is the very impressive Hope facility.
Wheaton and IWU are both very nice. However, I think the Shirk Center @ IWU is living, at least somewhat, on reputation, and has been slightly
eclipsed by King Arena @ Wheaton. The atmosphere @ Wheaton just seems more alive. Perhaps its because half of the usual audience at games there is not composed of people even older than I am!
Also, some of the seats have backs on them. Accordingly, I'd give the 2nd place nod to North DuPage.
If you want to give Augie 4th place, for now, I won't argue. The recent renovations certainly helped. What is impressive to me about Augie is that once inside, the place just feels big---spacious and not crammed in.
Pat mentioned atmosphere
. Based on that alone, North Central rates above Millikin with its giant curtain across one entire side of the gym. Elmhurst, a drab box with 1960s style bleachers certainly lacks any semblance of atmosphere, and the previously mentioned NPU Crackerbox has been said to compare to a high school facility.
JMHO. Other opinions will most certainly not concur.