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Luck: Aging facilities need upgrades

By Dave Hickman, Staff writer
Courtesy WVU
An artist’s rendering of planned concourse improvements at Milan Puskar Stadium.

MORGANTOWN — Oliver Luck admits that much of what will be done with the roughly $106 million earmarked for improvements to West Virginia University’s athletic facilities remains in the planning stages and, in some cases, is still merely conceptual.

All of it, though, needs to be done, he said.

“A lot of our competition venues have aged,’’ the WVU athletic director said Tuesday. “We’ve maintained them very well and they’ve aged very gracefully. But I think we’ve reached a point where we believe we need to upgrade these facilities.’’

Thus the long list of projects revealed in recent weeks and months and the funding for them, which is now only one step away from final approval. The university’s Board of Governors last week put its stamp of approval on the spending plan — a $75 million bond, $25 million in Mountaineer Athletic Club-generated funds and $6 million in money from the school’s contract with IMG College — and it now awaits only the approval of the state’s Higher Education Policy Commission.

On Tuesday, Luck presented his take on the projects in a session with the media. Roughly 50 percent of the $106 million that will be available is earmarked for improvements at Milan Puskar Stadium, the school’s 34-year-old football facility. The rest will be spent at the 44-year-old Coliseum and the venues surrounding it, including the Shell Building, the natatorium, the soccer stadium and the tennis courts.

“I think the facilities at the university for athletics were always good. There’s no question about that,’’ Luck said. “But I think any building that gets 30, 35, 40 years old, it’s like a home or a dormitory or anything else. It needs rejuvenation. It needs updates.

“Fans expect more. And they should expect more because we charge them more money. ... So a good bit of this is really for fan enjoyment. I think it will enhance the experience. And certainly some of this will end up helping our student-athletes.’’

The biggest and perhaps most ambitious part of the work — most of it scheduled to be done within the next two to three years — is a face lift for the football stadium. The majority of the work will be done to the concourses, improving restrooms and concession facilities and changing some of the entry points. Some of the work will be structural, and Luck also said there are plans to replace the original box seats (those at the top of the lower bowl) and add heating units there.

All of that will be done with money from the $75 million bond, the collateral for which is the steady revenue stream provided by the school’s contract with the Big 12 Conference. That work will begin after the 2014 season, but Luck said it hasn’t been determined if both sides of the stadium can be done at the same time or whether it will have to be done over two offseasons.

Before that work even begins, though, there are plans to replace the main scoreboard in the stadium, hopefully prior to the coming season. That, as well as a marquee in front of the Coliseum, is being paid for with the $6 million in IMG money — $500,000 a year over 12 years for capital improvements.

“It’s a little bit tight, but we’re hoping we can get it done by the coming academic year,’’ Luck said.

Also in the works at the football stadium is the new team room that will be expand the Puskar Center. That $5 million project is scheduled to begin soon and could be completed by December. Because it is being built as an addition to the Puskar Center rather than a remodeling of the current team room, construction shouldn’t disrupt the football team during the fall.

As for the rest of the money from the $75 million bond, Luck said almost everything to this point is still in the idea stage, although he expects to move on some projects as quickly as possible.

Much of the work will be done at the Coliseum, which since it opened in 1970 has housed the school’s physical education program. This summer, the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences (CPASS) moves into a new building on the Evansdale campus and so space will become available.

Much of that seems destined to become restrooms and concession areas as the Coliseum concourses are remodeled.

“Right now, based on federal standards, we are 102 restroom units short of what we need for a building of this capacity. That’s significant,’’ Luck said. “We’re also 21 points of sale short [for concessions] of what we need. We’ll repurpose a lot of the space that CPASS will vacate and have a concourse that is probably more designed for fans.’’

Precise plans aren’t completed for that project, in part because apparently there is still an asbestos issue to deal with in the building. The Coliseum was shut down during the 1999-2000 school year to remove asbestos from the public areas, but Luck said it still remains behind walls in some of the CPASS areas.

Luck said there were no plans to build additional suites at the Coliseum, but did say that a rather basic seating issue will have to be addressed soon. Most of the actual seats in the arena are the original ones and the school no longer has spare parts for them and they are no longer manufactured.

“We may need to literally reseat the Coliseum,’’ Luck said.

Elsewhere, Luck said a second dressing room for the women’s soccer stadium is a must because now visiting teams are provided only a tent. He also said work on the shell building should include a new track, the natatorium should have a 50-meter pool and the outdoor tennis courts are somehow not of standard competition size.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.


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