New Thinking Meets Old School Tradition

Few sports connect with generations of fans like college football. That’s why athletic departments are unwilling to tinker with tradition as they bring their facilities into the new millennium. Renovation, not replacement, is the buzzword on college campuses across the nation.

Fortunately for athletic departments, tradition and economics both support renovation, says Sherri Hultgren, sports designer for HNTB Corporation in Kansas City, Mo. “Land acquisition costs are high, and it’s often hard to find a suitable location to build on campus,” she says.

Renovation projects have been completed or are underway at more than three dozen universities, according to The Wall Street Journal. The total price tag for this work is approaching $1.5 billion. In the Big 12 Conference alone, 11 schools are spending $450 million to upgrade facilities.

Master Planning

What are they getting for their money? In most cases, universities are expanding seating, upgrading press box and locker room facilities and adding more restrooms and concession stands. But it all starts with a master plan.

“Most stadiums were not designed with a master plan, which adds to the cost during renovation,” says Gerardo Prado, a project designer with HNTB architects. “The first thing we always do is create an overall image for the stadium, considering what it will look like 10 or 15 years from now.”

“The involvement of the athletic department at this stage of planning is critical,” Hultgren says. “The key is to have a university representative who is able to get all of the interested parties involved. They need to agree on what is important so we can achieve the right balance.

“When the university decides what it wants to accomplish, our primary role is to develop design concepts for the entire project.”

- Michigan State University is undergoing a master plan study to examine the long-range impact of the growth of Spartan Stadium far into the future, including all levels of circulation and fan amenities.

- Purdue University recently completed a master plan. Seventy-five-year-old Ross-Ade Stadium is in need of many improvements to bring it up to the level of service expected by today’s football fans. The plan includes a market study, programming, concept design, phasing plan and financial approach for improvements to the 67,332-seat stadium. Design work is now underway.

- The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus was challenged to preserve tradition while expanding seating and modernizing fan amenities. As such, its master plan honors tradition while considering the needs of the next generation of players, students and fans. This was important because Buckeye fans have been packing into venerable Ohio Stadium since 1922, making the horseshoe design as much a symbol of the program as the buckeyes on players’ helmets. “We could not even think about demolishing Ohio Stadium and replacing it with a larger facility,” says Andy Geiger, OSU’s athletic director.

Spending Money to Make Money

In addition to improved facilities via master plans, renovated stadiums are adding revenue streams.

- OSU expects a financial return between $11 million and $12 million annually from expanding seating by 8,000 to 97,000 and adding 81 private suites. “The great thing about premium seating is that it pays for the cost of the renovation,” Hultgren says. “Universities can renovate their stadiums without borrowing money or going to the taxpayers for help.”

- The University of Kentucky, like Ohio State, considers its renovated Commonwealth Stadium, home of the Kentucky Wildcats, an important revenue stream. Larry Ivy, senior associate athletic director at UK, estimates that additional seating and suites will bring in $2 million a year to help the team stay competitive in the Southeastern Conference. “If we are going to compete against schools like Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, then we’ve got to stay with them in all areas,” he says.

Keep in mind that, before profit can be seen on any renovation, the project has to be cost effective. “We have to meet the university’s lofty goals while staying on budget,” says Prado. “In Kentucky, for example, we used precast concrete as much as possible on lower levels and metal panels at higher levels. We completed the project below budget at a cost of $93 to $95 per square foot.”

Bang for the Buck

A college football game is an event, Prado says, and universities encourage fans to come early and stay late. Now, in addition to expected upgrades, they are building amenities to accommodate these fans.

- Purdue’s first-phase renovation, estimated at $55 million to $60 million, will include general repairs, widened aisles and concourses, ADA provisions, more restrooms and concession stands, a new press box and the addition of private suites and club seating. A “plaza hall of fame” with flags and monuments honoring former Purdue sports stars is planned for the north end of the stadium.

“Our design will incorporate the features that fans, press and players are demanding in today’s market,” says Mike Handelman, HNTB’s director of sports architecture for the central division. “At the same time, it will respect the rich history of both Purdue University and Ross-Ade Stadium.”

- The OSU renovation includes lowering the playing field, expanding upper-deck seating outward from the existing stadium and including new press facilities. The first phase was completed in time for this season’s opening game.

- Kentucky’s $27-million project expanded the seating capacity to 67,500, and created a new main entrance, VIP lobbies and special events areas for meetings, private parties and banquets.

- The University of South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium underwent a $24.4-million expansion and renovation that includes “In the Zone,” an 18,300-sq.-ft., climate-controlled club. The project also added approximately 1,600 outdoor stadium seats, a banquet and lounge area, restroom facilities, club patron locker areas and a food service pantry. A new escalator, elevator and four new stairways help fans get to their seats.

Terry K. Miller, AIA, NCARB, is a senior vice president and national director of HNTB’s sports architecture practice in Kansas City, Mo. He can be reached at 816/472-1201 or