Gridiron Grandeur

Whether it’s to keep up with Joneses or to pack in more fans, expanding and updating football facilities is the trend of the year.

By Jim Catalano

Jim Catalano is an Associate Editor at Athletic Management.

Athletic Management, 14.6, October/November 2002,

When it comes to college campuses, the football stadium often serves as a university’s calling card to the general public. Attracting hordes of fans, students, and alumni during fall weekends, the stadiums provide a gathering place for the faithful to cheer on their school.

And, of course, those ticket-buying fans also provide a great financial benefit to the athletic department. A recent NCAA study revealed that, on the average, a Division I-A institution derives 26 percent of its revenue from ticket sales. Another 18 percent is drawn from funds provided by alumni and others, a figure that may include revenues from skyboxes and rights to purchase season tickets.

It’s no surprise, then, that many colleges and universities are looking to upgrade their football facilities, with an emphasis on adding more seating and luxury boxes. At the same time, schools are being careful to tie the new or renovated facility into the rest of the campus, both functionally and architecturally.

Below, we feature some recent, brand new, and imminent football stadium projects at colleges and universities around the country. We’ll also take a look at what a handful of high schools are doing to expand seating.

Virginia Tech
With a shot at the national title in 1999 and continued success in the seasons since, Lane Stadium simply had become too small to accommodate all of Virginia Tech’s ticket requests. It was a no-brainer, then, to replace a 2,000-seat end zone bleacher section with more seating. The trick was adding as many seats as possible in an area with soft soil.

“Athletic Director Jim Weaver and the athletic department had three goals,” says Scott Radecic, Senior Principal at HOK Sport+Venue+Event in Kansas City, who took on the project. “They wanted as many seats as possible, they wanted them as close to the field as possible, and they wanted to incorporate some areas of premium seating opportunities for their patrons.

“But the soil conditions in the south end zone were just horrible—real soft sandy, silty soil,” Radecic continues. “There’s a reason why, at many stadiums around the country, certain end zones are void of seats—they usually were storm-water runoffs or small streams that got filled in. The foundation system that was initially planned for Virginia Tech, spread footing, ended up becoming caissons, which became a series of three caissons joined by a cap and grade beams. As a result, it took some time to set the elevation right, set the sight lines, and maximize the seating opportunities for them.”

The final plan included a lower bowl of bleacher seats for some diehard fans and students and a mid-level deck that has premium seating—some chairbacks and some benches with backed seats. “The chairback seating section has access to the two club lounges, and we also incorporated 15 suites on their own level,” Radecic explains. “An upper deck contains the remaining balance of seats. The whole addition adds slightly more than 11,000 seats, which means a 9,000-seat gain.”

In the process, the new section enabled the east and west sides to be joined by a continuous concourse. “Even though they were at slightly different elevations, we were able to make that transition,” Radecic says. “The new south concourse not only added much-needed restrooms and concession areas for patrons, but also provided some platforms and plazas in the southeast and southwest corners for people to congregate.”

Elon University
With a football program on the rise from NCAA Division II to Division I-AA, Elon University sought a new facility that would return the sport to campus for the first time in more than 90 years. The team had been playing at a local high school field, but Elon officials wanted a stadium on school grounds that also offered more seating than the high school and a prime viewing experience for fans.

Ellerbe Becket, an architecture firm with offices in Greenville, S.C., Kansas City, and Minneapolis, designed Rhodes Stadium as the centerpiece of a new sports park at Elon that also includes a baseball field and an athletic training facility. “We tied the whole complex to the rest of the campus by using the same brick that predominates on school buildings,” says Doug Beichley, Ellerbe Becket’s Project Manager for College Sports.

“Key to the design concept was the progression from the campus,” he continues. “We tried to create a complete experience for the fans. They start by having tailgating and barbecue parties on campus before the games, then the school band starts marching down to the stadium and the fans follow along. It’s a neat setting, especially with the stadium tucked into the trees.”

The stadium has 8,250 seats, with the potential to eventually expand to 20,000. “Both end zones are open to a grass berm seating bowl, so when there are overflow crowds, families just sit on the grass berm,” Beichley says. “The school sells the tickets at a cheaper price, but the berm still offers a great view of the game.

“They’re already talking about adding seats,” Beichley continues. “They sold out several games last year, and had more than 10,000 at a couple of games.”

Other features include a two-level press box, contoured seats, a TifSport Bermuda grass field with more than 12,000 feet of drainage pipe, a scoreboard/message center, and new coaches offices. A 57-foot-high bell tower serves as a visual centerpiece to the sports park.

Rhodes Stadium also has the flexibility to host soccer matches. “The field layout offers plenty of room for corner kicks,” Beichley says. “This fall, the University of North Carolina men’s team is coming to play there, and the school is also looking to host NCAA playoff games in the future.”

University of Virginia
Since 1930, Scott Stadium has seen the highs and lows of the Virginia football program. But with success coming consistently since the 1980s, the school felt the need to add seating to accommodate increasingly larger crowds.

“They were near the lower end of the Atlantic Coast Conference in seating capacity, and wanted to increase it for the big games,” says Mike Holleman, vice president and director of sports facilities at Heery International in Atlanta, which designed the project along with VMDO Architects PC in Charlottesville, Va. “They wanted to create a more intimate stadium that had the crowd on top of the action, so that it was more intimidating for visiting teams.”

To that end, Heery added a new upper deck in the south end of the field. Besides 44 luxury suites, expansion added 16,500 seats to the stadium, which now holds 61,000.

In addition, UVa officials wanted to more fully integrate the stadium into the university’s famed landscape. “Because the stadium had been built over a number of years, certain parts didn’t relate well to each other or the rest of the campus,” Holleman says. “The goal was to make this a stadium that would feel a part of the campus and tie into the school’s colonial architecture.”

To achieve this, university officials didn’t want the stadium fully enclosed. “They wanted the facility to have a relationship to the rest of the campus on a daily basis, not just on game day,” Holleman says. UVa also wanted to maintain the grass hillside in one end zone on which many students congregate during games.

“The idea of being able to keep the view into the stadium from the outside was very important,” Holleman says. “So leaving that north end of the stadium open yet making it more enclosed was a big challenge. The way we met that was to install a big pergola at the north end of the stadium that links the east stands to the west. It’s not only a circulation path, but it’s sort of an enclosure to help bring that end in towards the field. It also allowed us the opportunity to tie to some of the historic architecture around campus with the use of the columns that are part of the pergola. The pergola is 22 feet tall, but it’s the right scale for the rest of the structure.”

Brick was used in new entryways, along with wrought iron and landscaping. “Where we couldn’t afford to clad the building in brick we used landscaping to soften those areas and reduce their scale,” Holleman explains.

Other touches included using double poles in all the light towers—the crossbracing has a “V” shape to play off the Virginia name—and a vertical scoreboard. “We didn’t want to destroy the line of the pergola running around that one end with a horizontal scoreboard, so we used a vertical tower that’s treated as a second building,” Holleman says. “It’s its own separate element that stands apart from the rest of the stadium and lets you see beyond the pergola to the hillside and mountains.”

Georgia Tech
Following the lead of its ACC rival in Virginia, Georgia Tech recently contracted HOK to come up with a plan to add 15,000 seats to Bobby Dodd Stadium. The challenge here is that the facility’s landlocked location on the urban campus constrained any expansion.

“To accommodate that, we looked at various options of demolishing certain parts of the stadium and building it back up,” explains Radecic. “We decided to keep the upper seating deck on the east sideline because it was in fairly good shape—it just needed a little reinforcing. But we removed the small grandstand in the north end zone and some of the original seating on the lower east side.

“And to allow for a number of new seats, we shifted the whole field to the west and the north,” he continues. “That allowed us to maximize the number of rows we could get in the lower bowl—by moving it, we were able to wrap a horseshoe of seats from the south end zone, along the east side, and up around the north end zone, which will put people much closer to the field than they’ve been in the past.

“And by moving the field to the west,” Radecic continues, “we have great sight lines from the existing west stands, and we actually improved the sight lines of the upper east stands. So we really made the situation better for everyone in the stadium.”

HOK also added some premium seating and suites on the east side of the stadium. “We kind of tucked them underneath, between this new lower bowl and the existing upper deck,” Radecic says. “And in the north end zone we added another mid-level deck and a third seating deck, as well as an area of premium seating. We’ll still continue working on the north upper deck, east suites, and club areas, and it should be fully completed for the 2003 season.”

University of Oregon
Autzen Stadium has served as home to the Oregon Ducks since 1967, but an $80 million renovation completed this summer by Ellerbe Beckett brings the facility into the 21st century. Not only have 12,000 seats been added to bring capacity up to nearly 54,000, so have 32 new skyboxes, a three-story luxury suite, and improved concession stands.

“The original bowl design was a very pure, simple, and sculptural form—very much the signature element of Autzen,” Ellerbe Becket’s Beichley says. “After exploring a more traditional upper-deck approach, we studied the possibility of simply ‘growing’ the existing bowl to meet the new capacity requirements. Instantly, it seemed much more appropriate and very much ‘of Autzen.’ There is no second-class feeling, sometime associated with the simple addition of an upper deck, and the chosen solution honors the spirit of the original design.”

The new addition, which was built up from an adjacent walkway, raised the south side of the stadium substantially, from 80 feet to 146 feet. “Imagine a three-dimensional compound curve in mid-air using cranes and 50,000-pound sections of precast concrete, and you get the idea,” Beichley says.

Improved traffic flow was another goal. Seats were removed from the existing bowl below the newly added upper section. That opened up space between the two levels for a new concourse that provides better crowd circulation and more areas for concessions and rest rooms. In conjunction with the work being done on Autzen’s south side, new entries were added to the north and east sides of the stadium to increase overall access.

The new seating area will include a club section that is covered by a large cantilevered roof. “The roof is important, not only for weather protection, but also as an Autzen legacy,” Beichley says. “The original stadium was funded from a thousand-dollar donation for each of the 2,000 seats covered by a cantilevered roof. In the expansion, options other than wood were explored, but none was especially superior from a cost standpoint.” The original laminated wood beams from the previous roof have been reinstalled around the stadium as entrance-marking pylons.

The expansion project has given Autzen a new look to fans proceeding from campus across the Willamette River to the stadium on game days. “Until now, the stadium really had no public face,” Beichley says. “The stadium seating was hidden behind a large bermed mountain of earth. With the south-side expansion and the new public entries on the north and east sides, a great public face to Autzen has emerged.”

Sidebar: High School Plans
With so much attention focused on huge university projects, it’s easy to forget that the majority of football facilities around the country are based at high schools. The crowds may not be as big, but that doesn’t mean high schools don’t want to make room for more fans, too.

For example, Rancho Verde (Calif.) High School officials wanted new and increased seating for its football facility, but a nearby property line posed tight constraints on adding on to the visitors side and budget considerations prevented building in a new location.

“We had to do some juggling to get the seat count where the school wanted it,” says Bob Webb, Architect and Project Manager at Trittipo & Associates in San Marcos, Calif. “We did that in a couple of ways. We stretched out the bleachers to the 20-yard lines, and we eliminated a center exit aisle in favor of bottom-only access, which allowed us to put more seats in that tight space.”

Hamilton (Calif.) High School recently constructed a new 800-seat stadium, one that can seat almost the entire town’s population. “The old field had telephone poles holding up the press box and aluminum seating that was falling apart,” says Paul Hendricks, owner of Thomas & Hendricks Architects in Chico, Calif. “We tore that out and in its place is an earthen berm-style bleacher system, with a full concrete slab and new aluminum bleachers.

“The challenge was that the site is flat,” continues Hendricks, “so we had to haul in several thousand yards of dirt before we could put the seats on the side of it. It’s like making a mountain in the middle of flats.

“The team is well supported by the community, so the school district rationalized the cost of the project, about $378,000, by projecting its use over a 50- or 60-year period—they expect to get a lot of use out of it.”

The earthen-berm approach was also considered by the Moody (Texas) Independent School District in building its brand-new stadium last year. “Our goal was to produce a world-class football complex in a short time frame on a unique site, one that has a lot of elevation change,” says Jed Walker, senior vice president of the Wallace Group in Waco, Texas.

“The site lended itself very well to an earthen berm stadium, where all the seats are on the ground and the field is actually below grade,” Walker says. “The problem was it is also very expensive. We priced it out and it was too costly, and the soil conditions were not conducive to putting concrete-slab seating on top of clay soil.

“So we came up with a steel-frame bleacher system,” he continues. “However, the legs on the bleachers are only about three feet high. We built the earthen berm in a coliseum setting, and the bleachers look like they fit right into the ground but they’re actually three feet above. We put a skirt around them so no one could see under them or get under them—you really don’t know the bleachers are elevated.”

With the tight schedule, the Wallace Group decided to complete the field before working on the stands. “The first thing we did was excavate down 10 to 12 feet in some places,” Walker explains. “Then in June we put in the irrigation system and planted the rolls of turf so the grass was growing while everything else was being completed. Usually you finish everything else first, then plant the grass. But we did it first, so by September we had a good growth of grass.

“We also planted the sides of the berm beyond the seating area with the same grass as is on the field,” Walker continues. “Those embankments are about 20 feet tall and run all the way around on three sides. So if there was a playoff game, people could sit on blankets or chairs on the slopes, and the capacity could be tripled from 3,500 in the stands to more than 10,000.

“It’s a very impressive project, especially for a 2A school,” he adds. “What Moody ended up with was a stadium that has all the benefits and aesthetics of an earthen-berm coliseum, but at the budget of a metal-frame bleacher system.”