MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Mountaineer Field has seen significant changes in recent years, as a new $5 million team room was added on to the Puskar Center in 2015 and the concourses on both the east and west sides of the football stadium were completely rebuilt in the following years with a price tag of nearly $60 million.
Now the latest piece of the facilities upgrade plan for West Virginia football is wrapping up, as a further $55 million renovation to the Puskar Center is nearly complete.
As anyone who watches HGTV knows, almost every reno project comes with some sort of snag. For WVU, the Puskar Center work started just fine in December of 2019, but a few months in COVID caused huge problems throughout the world, including construction efforts like the one that was underway at the south end of Mountaineer Field.
Despite all the huge problems caused by the pandemic, which for college athletic departments also featured major concerns about their financial future, West Virginia officials decided to continue on with the Puskar Center makeover.
“We kept moving forward with the renovations to the Puskar Center, because we were in the middle of that project, and we had already set up the debt service to pay for it,” explained WVU director of athletics Shane Lyons.
“I felt – and I had the support of (West Virginia’s) President (E. Gordon) Gee and the (WVU) Board (of Governors) – that we could not stop that project,” added Lyons in an exclusive interview with the Blue & Gold News. “If we had stopped after Phases 1 or 2, with Phases 3 and 4 still to be completed, that was going to be a problem. It would have put us behind for many years to come.”
The finished project places West Virginia’s football facilities on par with any in the Big 12, according to Lyons.
For the most part, this latest round of renovations has remade approximately 90% of the building. The weight room (a makeover Brown says is on a future wish list), the two-year-old cafeteria, the new team room, the athletic training center, the Hartley Club and the Reynolds Family Academic Performance Center were not part of this latest work, though those places also received fresh paint, new graphics and updated visual displays.
Most of the rest of the building was totally redone, starting with the Hall of Traditions, which is now the main entrance to the Puskar Center. Previously the Hall, which displays Mountaineer football memorabilia, was in the back of the facility and often was inaccessible to the public. Now it is in the front and will be open to fans on a regular basis, including on game days.
Behind the Hall of Traditions lies the inner sanctum for WVU football, from offices to meeting rooms, players’ lounge, locker rooms, medical facilities, strength and recovery areas, food and hydration stations and much, much, much more.
Video boards, graphics and other displays abound throughout the building. Lighting most everywhere is capable of changing colors and even strobing to a variety of frequencies, if that is desired. Technology updates are common throughout the renovations, with changeable display screens replacing static boards in numerous locations.
As the 2021 season quickly approaches, West Virginia officials are proud to show off their new football home.
“I think we’re already reaping the benefits of the renovations to the Puskar Center,” noted Lyons, who has been WVU’s A.D. since 2015. “The prospects who visit our facilities are very impressed. They are the high-quality student-athletes who we probably weren’t able to recruit in the past. That was my vision when it came to looking at that facility specifically and all our facilities as a whole. We want to bring them all up to Big 12 and Power 5 standards, and I think we’re getting closer to that. There is always going to be more to be done, but we’ve made improvements.”
Such renovations come with a cost. West Virginia has poured over $100 million into facilities improvements within the football complex. On top of that, there has been an even greater amount invested by WVU over the past decade in Coliseum enhancements as well as the construction of the new basketball practice facility, the Olympic Performance Training Center, Mon County Ballpark, The Aquatic Center at Mylan Park and the new outdoor track complex at Mylan Park.
Each of those has required big dollars, and thus Lyons pushes for donations from Mountaineer fans to pay for these first-class athletic facilities.
“We continue to need support from our donors. That’s why we started our ‘Time To Climb’ campaign,” explained Lyons, who is a native of Parkersburg, West Virginia. “People sometimes think we’re only interested in the six- or seven-figure gifts. Those are great, but I also would love to have 10,000 donors who are willing to give $252 a year. That starts adding up as well.
“It takes a lot to run an athletic department with roughly 500 student-athletes, outfit them, travel them, practice, the facilities. It takes a lot of expenses to do that.”
Prior to the pandemic, WVU’s athletic department budget was in the range of $93 million. Lyons says his department took a hit of about $25 million to its income bottom line last year because of all the COVID restrictions, but he hopes to dig West Virginia out of that hole over the course of the next three to five years.
Despite all the problems, he feels football now has a showcase in the Puskar Center.
“I’ll put that facility up against any facility in the country,” beamed Lyons. “I’ve been in some of the biggest and what are considered the best, and I think our new footprint, what we’ve done with that building, is very impressive.”
(This is part of a series of articles with Shane Lyons derived from his exclusive interview with the Blue & Gold News. Further stories covering a wide variety of topics will be published in the future.)