Polishing Touches On WVU Facilities Renovations
By Matt Keller
While the Big 12 revenue continues to pay dividends for West Virginia, the athletic department is entering a sort of holding pattern as the major renovations on the football stadium and Coliseum near completion.
Starting in the winter of 2016, Milan Puskar Stadium’s $45 million upgrade included new restrooms and concession stands, additional concourse space as well as added televisions, updated lighting, new signage and a fresh redesign of the field box suites, along with more points of entry and sale to shorten lines. The east side of the stadium was finished prior to last season, and the west side, which will be a near mirror image, is in its final stages as crews put the polishing touches on the 37-year-old structure.
Along with the new team room, the upgrade to the 10,000 square foot weight room and brand new playing surface all completed within the last three years, Mountaineer Field has been brought into a more modern era. The addition of a nearly completed new video board measuring 37 feet high by 97 feet long to the north end zone caps off the renovations, and will bring to a close the first major wave of construction in WVU’s six years in the Big 12.
“I’m hesitant to ever say we are ahead of schedule with a project of that size and scope, but we are definitely on schedule,” WVU Associate Athletic Director for Facilities and Operations April Messerly said. “It’s moving right along, and everything is looking good. The west side is a little different because of how that press box lobby comes down. There’s a lot more infrastructure there than on the east side because of the broadcasting cables and the satellite truck pad. There’s also a basement, which a kitchen for (concessionaire) Sodexo, things like that. But otherwise, it’s mirror image.
“The new north scoreboard is also moving right along. That will be provided by Daktronics. The structure has been set, and that should be in place by mid-August.”
The video board, which will be used in conjunction with the current south end zone board that was installed in 2008, will also provide additional live action, replays, statistics, out-of-town scores, in-game entertainment and advertisements. The new board will also be larger than the one on the other end, which is 23 feet high by 85 feet long, and is expected to feature brighter and clearer high definition images.
The upgrades, which were matched by those at the Coliseum that saw a complete overhaul of the concourse, the concession offerings, gates, restrooms and more, have begun to put a cap on among the most extensive series of renovations and facilities building in school history. Add in Mon County Ballpark, which opened April 10, 2015, and the basketball practice facility (February of 2012), and WVU has made significant facilities upgrades for all of its major sports.
The question is, what now? Sure, there have been a handful of issues, like the asbestos discovery that backlogged some aspects of the Coliseum renovations last year. Or the smoke containment project the facility had to undergo after the fire marshal noted that some rooms couldn’t have open ceilings. But otherwise, the vast majority of the projects, like this offseason’s addition of more ADA seating at the Coliseum and an upgrade to the handrails in the building, have gone quite smoothly.
“There are always things that come up, unforeseen circumstances for any project,” Messerly said. “With a stadium of that size and scope, you have unforeseen conditions. But that’s why you build in contingencies. There’s always particular things that pop up, and they add up. It’s the same for the Coliseum as well.”
There’s also always more to be done. The Shell Building needs an overhaul. The swimming and diving and track and field teams are awaiting a new facility at Mylan Park. And the list of desires from coaches never stops. Even head baseball coach Randy Mazey, fresh with a new ballpark, has hinted at other ideas to continue to upgrade his program.
“Coach (Mazey) would always like to have a weight room up there, to have an indoor facility, to have some office spaces in there and general meeting spaces,” Messerly said of the baseball program’s desires. “There are still some shell spaces up there that he looks to fund raise for and renovate.”
But of now, WVU will considerably slow construction and renovation until the new Mountaineer Aquatic & Track Center is finished. Announced in November of 2015, WVU’s Board of Governors voted Dec. 16, 2016 to authorize university management to negotiate a financial support, lease and related agreements for WVU’s participation in and use of the center, which includes a proposed Mountaineer Aquatic & Track Center.
Plans include “a 75,000-square-foot, 50-meter, eight-lane competition pool and diving tower with seating for 1,000 spectators, a warm-water therapeutic pool, family/public pool and water park, two wet classrooms, a cardio fitness room, two multi-purpose rooms, locker room facilities and concession areas in the aquatic center, and a fully functional, nine-lane outdoor track located near the aquatic center with seating for 1,000 spectators, and public restrooms and the ability to play host to a wide array of track and field events and a cross country course,” according to the original announcement concerning the $35-40 million project.
Also included is a walking surface on the outside perimeter of the competitive track and more than 250 parking spots. The aquatics center will also be home to the community recreational pool with a splash pad for children and a therapy pool for healing and medical purposes.
Ground has yet to be broken, however, meaning any movement on upgrades or changes to the Shell Building, the Hawley Field area, Coliseum parking and track are more than a year away.
“That’s still sort of up in the air on how that’s going to look,” Messerly said. “Shane has some thoughts and plans on how to move forward. All that is contingent with when the Aquatic Center gets underway. Then you look at the big picture for the Coliseum complex and what that means moving forward.”
According to Senior Associate Athletic Director for Communications Mike Fragale, the Mountaineer Aquatic & Track Center isn’t truly an athletic project directly financed by WVU. The athletic department will simply be a “tenant paying rent. Mylan Park and the county will be in charge of that project when it gets going.”
The center is being financed through the traditional loan process, with the fees the tenants pay to use the center going directly into paying off the loan. While West Virginia’s student-athletes will be among the primary users with its swimming and diving and track and field teams, it will share the complex with the general public and the student body.
The hope is that WVU’s swimming team can host the Big 12 championships at the venue someday. As of now, only the University of Texas has the proper facilities to host, meaning the Longhorns do so each season. Local high schools are also expected to utilize the aquatic and track center, which should boost the entire recreational and athletic footprint for the region.
In all, WVU, Mylan Park, the Conventions & Visitors’ Bureau and the Monongalia County Commission are all involved in the effort.
In other facility updates, West Virginia also resodded the women’s soccer surface at DreamsWork Field, and recently completed a significant upgrade on the wrestling locker room.
“It was time for DreamsWork to be done,” Messerly said. “It’s an industry standard to cut the top off and regrade and redo the sod. It’ll be ready for camp. With the wrestling locker room renovation, the wrestling team has been in the former baseball locker room, but they did fundraising and got that upgrade. They should move in by August.”
WVU also completed basic maintenance on Mountaineer Field, including resealing and waterproofing the upper east side of the stadium, as that section was due.
“We used to do a section every year, but we got off that rotation,” Messerly said. “We are back on it now and did the upper east side (this offseason). We always do the caulking and joints, but as far as deck coating, that was the section we did this year.”
This story was part of the recent issue of the Blue & Gold News. You can purchase a subscription to the Blue & Gold News magazine and the website, BlueGoldNews.com, at https://bluegoldnews.com/membership-account/membership-levels/