WVU Moving Forward With Some Athletic Facilities Projects, Others In Question
Over the past couple of years the Mountaineer athletic department has put together plans for nearly $100 million in renovations and construction.
The economic uncertainty that has followed the current COVID-19 pandemic has left some of those projects in uncertain terms, though, while others are still going forth.
WVU director of athletics Shane Lyons announced last week that his department was cutting costs, including furloughing one-third of its employees for 60 days this summer. This recent round of measures will save approximately $3 million against a projected $5 million budgetary hole. The WVU athletic department has an annual budget of nearly $92 million but the cancellation of this past spring’s NCAA basketball tournament and other lost revenue has left not only West Virginia but nearly every college athletic department in the country in a financial bind. And that comes even before the next fear, which is that the 2020 football season, the biggest revenue producer for nearly all Power 5 programs, could be in danger or at least greatly altered this fall as a result of social distancing measures.
While the Mountaineers are looking to save money, some of their renovations are still ongoing, though others are uncertain.
“The projects we are continuing to work on have nothing to do with our budgets for this year or next year,” explained Lyons.
WVU is going full speed ahead with the major renovations at the Puskar Center, which is the operations hub for the Mountaineer football program. The work on that building started earlier this year and has another 11 or 12 months before it is completed.
“The Puskar Center (reconstruction), those are gifted funds as well as future bond funds we will continue to work through. We are not stopping construction there,” noted Lyons of a renovation project that comes with a $55 million price tag.
The work on three other projects – the Natatorium repurposing into an Olympic sports Training Center, the replacement of the seats in the WVU Coliseum and the replacement of video boards in both the Coliseum and Mountaineer Field – has not yet started but will continue as originally scheduled. Those tasks are likewise being paid through donations and specific money that are not part of West Virginia’s annual budget.
“The Olympic sports weight room, we were fortunate to get a nice gift from the Ruby Trust,” said Lyons of the $10 million pledge from the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust. “Those are specifically earmarked for that project, and we can’t use that money for anything else.”
In addition, Ken and Jennifer Mason are providing a monetary gift to help replace the 14,000 seats in the Coliseum, which are original to the 50-year-old building.
“The replacement of the seats in the Coliseum is also a gift that is earmarked specifically for that,” added Lyons.
“The video boards, the one at Mountaineer Field and the one at the Coliseum, are part of our (media rights) agreement with Learfield/IMG and those funds are to be used specifically for those video boards.
“Those projects will continue because the funding for those has nothing to do with our fiscal year ’20 or ’21 budgets,” WVU’s director of athletics said.
The Puskar Center renovations are expected to be completed by the summer of 2021. The new video board in Mountaineer Field is supposed to be in place by this fall, and the work in the Coliseum replacing the seats and that video board is scheduled to be finished by the start of the 2020-21 basketball season. New lights and a new sound system are also part of those improvements for the playing area of the Coliseum.
There are a number of other facilities projects that Lyons had proposed recently that are now uncertain because of the economic downturn. All were contingent on getting the finances for each to begin with, but now getting those finances is expected to be tougher in the current economic climate.
WVU has purchased the White Day Golf Course with the intention of converting that into a practice facility for the Mountaineer golf team. That cost is projected at $5 million. It was always hoped that donors would foot the bill for that endeavor, but finding that kind of money now is expected to be more difficult.
West Virginia also had a number of other renovation projects within the Coliseum Complex that also must find funding. While the construction of the Olympic sports weight room and training facility is still moving forward, as is the replacement of the seats, video board, interior lighting and sound system in the Coliseum, other parts of that Coliseum Complex plan are now up in the air.
Original plans in the Coliseum called for a floor-level club area, to be constructed in the area currently housing a small weght room. In addition, the Coliseum exterior apron was going to be spruced up significantly, the Shell Building was going to be renovated, and the exterior of the buildings and the walkway from the Shell Building to the Coliseum were going to be modernized.
Also the old outdoor track behind the Coliseum was going to be paved over to provide approximately 500 additional parking spots. Because the new outdoor track complex and Aquatic Center at Mylan Park each have opened in the last 18 months, the old outdoor track and Natatorium are no longer needed.
Certainly WVU would like to continue with all these athletic facility projects. The fundraising for the Climbing Higher campaign continues, but securing the money for each of the improvements is now much, much tougher than anyone envisioned a few months ago.