Football Facelifts

Today’s football stadiums are the front porch of many athletic programs. And they are being designed with that in mind.

By R.J. Anderson

R.J. Anderson is an Assistant Editor at Athletic Management. He can be reached at:

Athletic Management, 17.6, October/November 2005,

For many an athletic program, the football team is its most visible face. Friday nights and Saturday afternoons are filled with roaring crowds, and the big game serves as the centerpiece of special events like Homecoming and Parents’ Weekend. As a result, athletic administrators spend a lot of time tending to the facilities that house and cater to the sport’s student-athletes, fans, recruits, and donors.

Schools have been upgrading their football facilities with new ways of meeting the varied demands of diverse constituencies. Often, innovation is a key component of these projects, from finding ways to protect the environment to bringing a big-time college football feel to a high school stadium.

In this article, we’ll look at five Facilities of Innovation. Representing varied levels of the game, these five schools have taken new and creative approaches to meeting the needs of their football programs.

Green is a familiar color for football facilities. Of course there’s green grass—or artificial turf. And don’t forget the greenbacks it takes to build a stadium. But the University of Connecticut is going green in a whole new way with its Burton Family Football Complex and adjacent Mark R. Shenkman Training Center, designed by Jeter, Cook & Jepson of Hartford, Conn., and associate architects HOK Sport of Kansas City, Mo. Once the new $40-million, 165,000-square-foot complex is completed in 2006, it will likely be among the first collegiate athletic facilities in the country to meet the Green Building Council’s Leadership in Environmental Design (LEED) standards for “green” (environmentally friendly) facilities, according to Jeff Hathaway, Director of Athletics at Connecticut.

To meet LEED standards, UConn must promote environmental sustainability in site selection, building design and selection of materials, indoor environmental quality, energy, and water conservation. In practice, that means environmental consciousness has guided just about every aspect of the project. UConn used recycled steel from factories within 500 miles of the campus, which required less energy to produce and transport. The synthetic surface for the indoor practice field is composed of various recycled materials, including rubber from shredded tires and sneakers. To reduce operational costs and enable some use of solar heating in the winter, 90 percent of regularly occupied spaces in the complex will receive natural daylight.

Outside of the complex, permeable pavement is used as an alternative to concrete or asphalt, and along with bio-retention ponds that surround the facility, helps filter rain water and reduce runoff—which cuts down on sedimentation, erosion, and localized flooding. The university also helped its LEED standing by excavating 7,000 square feet of peat from the site and relocating it to help create and restore campus wetland areas.

Simply understanding—let alone meeting—the sometimes-complex environmental standards is no easy task. Fortunately for UConn, Richard Miller, the school’s Director of Environmental Policy, has been actively involved in the project along with Director of Construction George Kraus, an LEED-certified engineer. “There are unique challenges in constructing an athletic facility to meet LEED standards,” Miller says. “These challenges have inspired some creative ideas from our design professionals.”

For example, heating and cooling the considerable open spaces of an indoor practice facility is challenging enough without having to be energy-efficient. But designers have taken steps to make the area as “green” as possible. “For instance, infrared heating units will be strategically located to keep players comfortable on the practice field,” Miller says. “This is much more energy-efficient than heating the entire structure to a uniform temperature—which doesn’t make sense when people are not present.”

The biggest hurdle involved justifying the additional expense required to meet the LEED criteria. “Funding is always very challenging for college athletics—and it was especially true when trying to commit money to earn this certification,” says Hathaway. “But the additional amount turned out to be less than one percent of the total project cost.

“We knew going in that one of the premises of LEED certification is making an investment on the front end. But over the course of the life of the building, you recover those savings through energy efficiency,” he continues. “Plus, we’re doing the right thing for the environment and taking a leadership position—both on campus and in intercollegiate athletics—by having LEED certification for this facility.”

While designed to be friendly to the environment, the facility will still include all the creature comforts needed to accommodate a rising NCAA Division I-A program. The complex includes state-of-the-art sports-medicine facilities, a modern weightroom and team locker room, and a 90-foot tall indoor practice facility featuring a 120-yard-synthetic-turf, multi-use practice field. Also included will be coaches’ offices, team meeting rooms complete with high-tech presentation equipment, and academic resource areas that feature computer labs and study rooms.

“Virtually every one of our sports teams will use the complex in some way, either for practice during inclement weather or for some sort of conditioning. And, in addition, it will also be utilized by our recreation and intramurals programs,” says Hathaway. “We’re proud to say the Burton Family Football Complex and Mark R. Shenkman Training Center will be among the nation’s finest athletic facilities, and we are equally proud that they will be built to meet LEED standards.”

Good things are happening for the James Madison University football team. And now, its biggest fans will have a better view.

Last year, the Dukes won the NCAA I-AA championship, and this fall players were greeted with the opening of the school’s new $10 million Plecker Performance Center, a two-story facility situated behind an end zone at Bridgeforth Stadium, that houses the team’s meeting rooms, coaches’ offices, and a plush and spacious new locker room, complete with flat screen televisions and individual wood dressing cubicles. But the facility’s new viewing areas are turning the most heads.

New coaches’ offices and team meeting rooms are a staple of many football facility projects. But James Madison’s meeting rooms are unique in that they will convert into hospitality areas for VIPs and high-dollar donors on game days. “Almost every room on the second floor has a view of the football field, and we’re going to use those team meeting rooms during the games to entertain,” says Jeff Bourne, Athletic Director at James Madison. “We’re also going to use the hall of fame area, which is a huge lighted atrium in the center of the building, and the student lounge located off the main corridor as entertainment areas where we’ll offer catered meals.”

Designed by Atlanta-based Heery International Inc., the building also includes amenities available to other James Madison sport teams, such as an academic support wing with a computer lab, a 5,000-square-foot state-of-the-art athletic training room space that will serve as the hub of the school’s sports-medicine department, and a 7,000-square-foot strength and conditioning area that is available to four women’s teams as well as the football team. In addition to the typical weightroom equipment, there are two 45-inch flat screen televisions that connect to digital video cameras, allowing strength and conditioning staff members to provide immediate visual feedback while training athletes.

The addition of the Plecker Performance Center has also improved the school’s game day atmosphere. The new building seals off one end of the stadium while a large video scoreboard installed in 2004 closes off the other. It has created a distinct home field advantage for the Dukes, who sold their full allotment of season tickets for the first time this year. “The large video scoreboard in one end zone and the new performance center in the other end have changed the dynamic of the stadium,” says Bourne. “Closing it in has helped give it a feeling of energy and excitement that we didn’t have before. You can really feel the difference.

“We put a lot of thought into creating something that would fit aesthetically into this part of campus and still allow us potential for future growth with our stadium,” continues Bourne. “It’s become the front porch of athletics here and it makes a tremendous statement to the athletes we are recruiting. I think it will enhance the day-to-day experience for all of our student-athletes.”

Bourne says there is a plan in place to help the team maintain its newfound momentum. Potential additions include a new field surface, improved lighting, a new press box, and more seats and customer amenities such as larger bathrooms and concessions stands. “It could be a project that stretches out over 10 to 12 years,” says Bourne. “But I think we’ll start seeing additional phases begin in the next year or two. This is not a ‘build one building and let it sit for 10 years’ project. It’s a process, and we plan on following through.”

In a famously basketball-crazy state, Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Ind., is giving its football players something to smile about. Currently in the middle of a privately funded $10 million project, builders have already completed a 6,000-seat football stadium, complete with a high-end video scoreboard, and are working on the press box, which will boast over 2,500 square feet of space. The school recently broke ground on the next leg of the project—a 22,000-square-foot athletic complex that will house locker rooms, athletic training rooms, and a 4,000-square-foot strength and conditioning room, the interior of which will be designed by the school’s newly hired full-time strength and conditioning coach. The project architects are Keystone Architecture of Lafayette.

Jefferson Athletic Director Maurie Denney, a 1965 alumnus of the school and one of the complex’s visionaries, says no shortcuts were taken during the design and building process. “When your facility is privately financed, people expect it to be first-class,” he says. “You don’t do anything halfway, and ours is a spectacular facility.”

Funding kicked off with a handful of high-dollar contributions from long time supporters, including $3.75 million from John Scheumann, for whom the stadium was named. After that, donations have come in all shapes and sizes.

“We have tried to make it a community-based project,” says Denney. “We have offered the opportunity to buy a brick for $100 and have it placed in the entryway, or have your name engraved on a locker for $750. Of course, when you have somebody give you $3.75 million, it’s a nice start and makes people want to get involved.”

Denney says because the stadium project is an extension of the community, the construction phase has progressed very smoothly. “The contractors and management firms were both Lafayette-based and wanted to be involved in this project because it is something special and benefits the community,” he says. “I feel like the contractors have all gone the extra mile because this isn’t your normal school project where you’re always fighting the budget and you have to take the cheapest bid. Because this was privately funded, we could work with contractors and get the best that we possibly could.”

It is the features and comforts that make this complex unique at the high school level. In addition to having the only video scoreboard in the state at a high school facility, the stadium boasts an Olympic-quality surface for its 10-lane track—another Indiana high school first—as well as a multi-purpose artificial surface for the playing field and one of the best outdoor lighting systems available.

The large video scoreboard, which cost $250,000, was a huge hit with the school’s fans last season. “Our fans love coming to high school games and seeing instant replays just like they would at a college or pro game,” says Denney. “And when we throw a kid’s picture on the screen after they score a touchdown or do something spectacular, it gets the fans excited.”

Denney is quick to emphasize that the complex is for the entire student body, not just the athletic department. “We’re providing our student-athletes with a first-class facility for multiple sports, but we’ve also considered the interest of our other activities,” he says.

For instance, when the stadium was in its initial design stage, the plans called for 4,000 seats. But the band director indicated that if the school wanted to hold state contests, the seating capacity needed to be at least 6,000. “So we bumped up the seating capacity to 6,000,” says Denney. “Whether it be band, soccer, football, or anything else, we want to be able to offer our kids the opportunity to perform in their own first-rate facility.”

Across the country, space is at a premium for colleges and universities looking to build athletic facilities. At Chapman University in Orange, Calif., the space problem doubled when administrators decided to build both an aquatic center and a football stadium. For Chapman, the solution was to combine the facilities into one hybrid structure that provides cost savings by sharing amenities, support structures, and mechanical elements, all while providing fans of both sports a unique viewing experience.

Slated to run through the spring of 2007, construction recently began on the Lastinger Athletic Complex and Folino Family Aquatics Center, a raised facility featuring an outdoor pool and a 2,000-seat stadium that will sit above an underground parking garage. The facility will also include seven locker rooms, a weightroom, coaches’ offices, team meeting rooms, and athletic training rooms. The two facilities will share a common wall and serve as the anchor to the university’s athletic program. The complex will also supply power for the mechanical and cooling systems in a neighboring gymnasium.

Home to the football and soccer teams, the field will have a multi-use synthetic surface. Because the university wants fans to be on top of the action and ensure the best sight lines, there will be only a narrow jogging track between the playing surface and the stands. Designers have also planned for steep seating risers to ensure the best possible view.

The adjacent aquatic center will feature an Olympic-size pool with a bulkhead and 1-meter and 3-meter diving boards. There will be seating for 600 above the pool deck.

One of the project’s highlights is the proposed alumni deck overlooking the facility, which will allow spectators to simultaneously view action at both venues. The university intends to use that area as a reception deck for parties and recruiting. Plans for this part of the facility also include a press box and alumni suites.

One of the challenges for the designers was drawing up a building that suits the athletic department’s needs while fitting into the overall campus architectural scheme. “The stadium really had to be sculpted with detail and care,” says James Braam, a Senior Associate with Cannon Design, the firm overseeing the plans. “Exposed steel and brick detail are going to be a big part of this project. It won’t just be a giant, faceless stadium.”

Having to design two venues in one, planners were challenged to ensure the best event-viewing experience. “With these buildings there were lots of variables to consider when planning for sight lines and field specs. For instance, we found that if we pushed the pool too close to the stands, we would lose the pool safety zones in front of the seats,” says Braam. “As we got into the project and began studying the section, we thought about how we could squeeze the dimensions as tight as possible. It’s a balance between getting the sight lines on the football field right and having the field in the best location, and doing likewise with the aquatic center. It was a balancing act getting all the pieces to work, and it all started with looking at the athletic master plan to see what would and wouldn’t fit.”

Braam estimates that squeezing the dimensions will also have a dramatic effect on the construction costs. “It’s probably led to a 10- to 15-percent savings in square footage,” he says. “When you take 10 percent of 30,000 to 40,000 square feet and multiply it by $280 per square foot, that adds up to about $1 million in savings.”

While the news of a Division I powerhouse renovating its football stadium can hardly be considered unique, the University of Wisconsin is taking a cutting-edge approach to renovating its historic facility. Camp Randall Stadium, an 88-year-old facility located on the site of a Civil War training post that hosted 60,000 Union troops, is steeped in tradition and revered throughout the entire state. As a result, the university had to be very careful making $109 million worth of stadium improvements.

As any homeowner quickly learns, remodeling and renovation projects face inevitable uncertainties, especially when altering a nearly century-old structure. “Anytime you renovate a stadium that was built in 1917 and patched together over many years, that poses a lot of unique construction challenges,” says Vince Sweeney, Senior Associate Athletics Director at Wisconsin. “When you knock down a couple walls or open up a panel, you never know what you’re going to find.”

Because the university could not shut the stadium down during renovation, construction crews had to schedule around certain Saturdays in the fall. “When we’re hosting six or seven home games and have 80,000 fans, it basically shuts down the construction site,” says Sweeney. “It slowed the process a bit, but we relied on our construction managers and crews to recognize our needs and work around them. They worked all week, then the Friday before each home game was a cleanup day, and they’d start again on Monday.”

The project, designed by Green Bay-based Berners-Schober Associates, revolved around adding new and improved seating options. Overall, seating capacity increased from 76,000 to 80,000 with the addition of 900 premium club seats and 72 suites. “We took out bad seats and added good seats,” says Sweeney, adding that sight lines were improved with the removal of the first five rows of seats at the floor of the stadium.

The athletic department’s coffers should benefit from the changes. “There’s a significant increase in revenue from the premium seating areas—the two levels of premium seating and the suites,” says Sweeney. “That revenue over the next 20 years will pay for the project.”

The media and communications center was also completely remodeled, as were the entrances and concourses. Lighting and sound systems were upgraded and a major scoreboard and three video replay boards were added to the facility.

The school also took advantage of the renovation process to launch a new branding program that emphasizes Camp Randall Stadium’s historic status. A new logo incorporating the facility’s original 1917 completion date was designed and placed throughout the stadium.

“We started the renovation project with the notion that there’s a rich tradition to Camp Randall Stadium, and used that as a backdrop throughout the whole process, including the logo development and marketing materials,” says Sweeney. “What started with a logo and a concept carried through the marketing and the donor recognition projects to all the different types of visual programs that we have instituted in these last four or five years. This includes the design and interior decorating for some of our varsity club seating, directional signs throughout the facility, and even the football tickets themselves.”

To judge the success of the project, Sweeney and his colleagues rely on their customers’ responses—which have so far been good. “In addition to the anecdotal feedback that we get—people calling or talking to us at social functions—one of the ways we measure fan reaction is by conducting customer surveys of our season ticket holders at the end of the season. Last season, in which we unveiled a limited version of the program and structural changes, that feedback was very positive,” says Sweeney.

“Of course, the ultimate measure is whether they come back or not,” he adds. “And this season, for the first time in our history, we are sold out in advance and have no public sale. Typically at this time of year we’ll have single-game tickets for sale, but they were all gobbled up by our current season ticket holders and our donors.”