Vanderbilt football stadium to become a fix-her-upper
By: BY TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — Vanderbilt can’t go in and rebuild the smallest football stadium in the Southeastern Conference. So university officials Tuesday unveiled a five-phase, nearly $60 million renovation of its athletic facilities that include giving the stadium a facelift.
Work started on Phase I in April and will include new bathrooms, concession stands, fresh paint and a new facade at one end of a stadium that hasn’t had any major structural changes since a nine-month reconstruction was finished before the 1981 season. Eventually, new brick will surround the entire stadium.
Football coach Bobby Johnson, who has seen renovations to the baseball field and at Memorial Gym help baseball and both men’s and women’s basketball, said he is very excited.
“You invest, I think you give teams at Vanderbilt a chance to compete, and we’re finally glad that they’re investing in football in the same way. And obviously football’s a bigger expense. We’ve got more players, a bigger stadium. It costs a lot more to do. But we’re thrilled they said, ‘Hey, let’s bring them up to the same level,’” Johnson said.
“You can’t renovate the whole stadium. But what they propose … I think what we’re spending is going to be a tremendous, tremendous upgrade of our facility in football.”
David Williams, vice chancellor of university affairs and student athletics in charge of Vandy’s athletics, announced the project Tuesday morning. Each phase will start after a sport’s season has completed, and his target date for completion is 2013 even as the university is raising money separately to pay for the work.
“Some people may say we have joined the arms race. I think we’re just basically taking care of business,” Williams said.
The bulk of the renovations will benefit the football program. Johnson eventually will get new meeting rooms, a renovated and expanded training room, dining hall and offices and even a place where he can meet with his entire team. Synthetic turf will be added to the practice field for football.
Eventually, brick will surround most of the football stadium, and there’s already a suggestion for what fans can call the renovated field.
“We’re basically going to call the place the Brickhouse,” Williams said.
The fourth phase will install a building in the north end zone with new seating and put artificial turf back on the football field, replacing the natural grass installed in 1999. Other than adding a jumbo video screen in 1998 for the NFL’s then-Tennessee Oilers and the removal of the north end zone bleachers in 2003, that’s been it for work at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The football program hasn’t had a winning season since 1982, but came very close in 2007 going 5-7 with two losses by a combined four points. The SEC’s smallest stadium, seating 39,773, averaged 34,629 in 2007 for 87.07 percent of capacity. Visiting SEC teams contribute greatly to attendance.
Williams said Vanderbilt has been shedding the image of the lovable losers over the past decade.
“Building some nice facilities is no guarantee we’ll have success, but it gives us a chance and that’s all we want is a fighting chance,” Williams said.
A 2002 renovation of Memorial Gym added a practice gym and new coaches’ offices that was so successful in wooing recruits that men’s basketball coach Kevin Stallings said then-Kentucky coach Tubby Smith sent his staff down to check out what Vanderbilt had.
“They heard it was so nice they wanted to build something like that. How about that? Kentucky was trying to keep up with us and our offices,” Stallings said.
Memorial is included in the first phase with expansion of the locker rooms for both men’s and women’s basketball. Women’s basketball coach Melanie Balcomb said the locker rooms will be personalized with reminders of the players who have had success at Vandy in the past with space to relax before and after practices.
It’s the cost of competing in the SEC and trying to reach the Final Four, where Vandy’s women haven’t been since 1993.
“The facilities that we see when we’re on the road are phenomenal. I think we’re just going to be able to match those facilities and be just as current,” Balcomb said.