By KEVIN WEAKS
The next renovation project to UT Martin’s athletic facilities will be much more than a simple cosmetic touch-up.
A major facelift, it’s likely to come soon.
The home seating structure at Hardy Graham Stadium/H.K. Grantham Field will apparently be coming down in the next year or so and will be replaced with a structure topped off by a larger press box.
UTM athletic director Phil Dane indicated this past weekend that the $5.5 million project, and its financing plan, have gained approval from a couple of key groups and will now be up before the Board of Trustees at its next meeting in June.
“We have a developmental design of the project, which means we have renderings and floor plans,” he said. “About one-third of the architectural work has been done, and the next step is to get full board approval.
“We have approval at the chancellor’s level and campus level for the funding plan we have in mind to get the project done, but that doesn’t go before the board until June. Until that’s done, we can’t forward with any more design work, although it’s completely designed. The next step is to develop construction documents so we can actually bid the project.”
The project is a complete do-over of the home grandstand on the west side of the stadium.
“That side has some issues with it in several different ways, and we just feel like we’d be better off, instead of putting a new press box on old stands with those issues, to instead go with a new design,” Dane said.
The new stands will be pushed up to the fencing that separates the Skyhawk bench from the current walking area, and the stadium will load fans from the rear with tunnels leading inside to the seats.
The press box building, stretching 50 yards from one 25-yard-line to the other, begins at ground level with dressing areas for the visiting teams and referees, a concession stand and a souvenir shop.
The second level will be a multi-purpose area, used as a club level on game days and then academic support space, meetings, banquets and other events at other times of the year. It can be rented out and will be available year-round. That level will also have a chancellor’s suite.
The third level will house the working media in an area more than twice the size of the current box in addition to booths for home and visitor coaches, home and visitor radio, a visiting athletic director’s box, WUTM and a television production area as all games will be either televised or streamed on the Internet.
The new facility will, Dane said, complement the architecture of the Bob Carroll Building.
Dane said the choice to design a club suite rather than individual suites was made to better serve the fan base.
“We feel our market is better suited for a nice club level experience,” the AD said of that level, which is similar in design to the new club level section of the press box at Jacksonville State. “So, basically from the 25-yard-line to 25-yard-line, it will be one big open space, and our highest tier boosters will be able to come there on game day for a meal and watch the game from there, if they choose, or go out the doors to their seats, which will be at the top of the seating.
“We just felt like the idea of selling a suite for $10,000, $15,000 or $20,000 a year didn’t fit our market like we feel like this club level will. We’ll be asking people who are really interested in our football program to step up and give another $500 a year, or something like that, to have this club level experience. They’ll also have seats right outside the doors. It will be a very convenient way to come see the game, promote fellowship among our boosters and help us cultivate more boosters.”
Other funding has been supported by guaranteed money games with BCS schools. UTM played at Memphis and Northern Illinois last season, will play at Memphis again and Boise State in the upcoming campaign and will travel to Southeastern Conference schools Kentucky and Mississippi State in 2014.
The construction could begin sometime after the 2013 season and likely will carry though the 2014 campaign.
Though not finalized, there could also be a joint athletic-academic program plan put to use that would add another level to the facility, which would bring in more uses for the building and the football parking lot, thus freeing up space in the Boling University Center.
Because no program is in place, Dane was not at liberty to discuss the plan in any detail.
He was, however, more than happy to tout the decade-long facilities’ enhancement that has moved UTM to a new level.
“The last 10 years have been almost a total facelift for the campus in a lot of ways,” said Dane, also pointing out the new recreation center as well as upgrades to the university center, Meeks library, on-campus housing and fine arts building. “This will be the biggest one we’ve undertaken on the athletic side — financially and the complexity of trying to get it done around two football seasons. We feel like our football program deserves it. It’s the third-winningest program in the (Ohio Valley Conference) over the last seven years.”
Other projects include new seating in the Elam Center, a new baseball/softball training complex with upgrades to both venues, new soccer seating and new tennis courts that are currently under construction.
Football head coach Jason Simpson sums up what the new stadium means in one word.
“Any time a program has top of the line facilities, new facilities, it shows everybody — players, staff, alumni, fans, recruits — a commitment,” the coach said. “Whether it’s the fine arts building or the housing, it shows a commitment.
“You put that in a great setting with all that we have, and it’s a great campus.”
The current home side seating was constructed in 1930. One of the first lighted stadiums in West Tennessee, the field was named after former football, baseball and basketball coach H.K. Grantham in 1974 when UTM hosted Nicholls State, while the stadium was named after long-time donor and supporter Hardy M. Graham against Gardner-Webb in 2001. The Bob Carroll Football Building sits behind the south end zone. That facility, and the installation of field turf, have been the other major upgrades to the stadium in recent years.
The latest project takes that overall vision one big step farther.
“We felt like we ought to just go ahead and do something pretty radical instead of just putting a Band-Aid on it, so to speak,” Dane said. “It will serve the program for the next 50 years.”
Published in The Messenger 4.9.13