In The Zone
IN THE ZONE
Construction areas cover the A&M campus, as new athletic facilities come on board
By Homer Jacobs
12th Man Magazine
To drive the roads around Bryan-College Station these days is to maneuver around convoys of dump trucks and cement mixers, all making runs into and out of the Texas A&M campus.
Welcome to the largest construction zone in Central Texas.
With new athletic facilities seemingly popping up monthly, and the grandest of them all—a redeveloped Kyle Field—looming in the not-so-distant future, the signs of unprecedented progress are everywhere in Aggieland.
“It has transpired on a fast track, and that is something the athletic department and football program wanted, and donors have responded and that has been extremely encouraging and very beneficial,” said Travis Dabney, the 12th Man Foundation’s Director of Major Gifts. “We’re moving at speeds now that we’ve never moved at before in terms of facilities construction. Texas A&M understands now better than ever that you can’t talk and talk and talk…you have to show action for people to respond. And we’ve done that.”
While facilities like the McFerrin Athletic Center, the Cox-McFerrin Center for Aggie Basketball and Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park have changed the athletic landscape at A&M in recent years, there has not been a slowdown on orders for bricks and mortar, as the Campaign for Aggie Football winds down as the latest fundraising initiative of the 12th Man Foundation.
The $25 million campaign has come to fruition with the completion of the $9 million Davis Player Development Center in 2012 and the imminent openings of the R.C. Slocum Nutrition Center and the Tommie E. Lohman ’59 Center at the Bright Football Complex.
The A&M football team has already been eating meals in the Slocum Center, and the entire dining facility will be open to all student-athletes on Sept. 30. While the Lohman Center experienced some construction delays because of a tricky redesign of a stairwell in the Bright lobby, the sparkling football gathering place is set to become fully operational and decorated by the first week of October.
“The presentation of Texas A&M football is going to take place in the Lohman Center,” Dabney added. “When you walk in, that’s where you’re going to hear, see, read and feel the story of Texas A&M football. It is going to be an awesome facility.”
While the recent fundraising focus has been on football, the A&M athletic department has commissioned the architectural firm Populous (the lead design group for the Kyle Field project) to unfurl a master plan for athletics facilities going forward.
At the top of the list are plans for a new softball stadium and outdoor track and field complex, both to be built on the current Penberthy intramural fields.
Dirt is already moving to make room for a new, $7.3 million west-campus weight room to be located just behind soccer’s Ellis Field. The weight room will provide access for the approximate 450 out of the 700 student-athletes on campus who currently work out in the Netum Steed facility that will be torn down after the 2013 football season as part of the redevelopment of Kyle Field.
“In order to get the area for the west-campus weight room that’s part of the Kyle Field project, we had to contribute some money to get a field done over at Penberthy that’s next to the George Bush Library,” said associate athletic director for facilities Kevin Hurley. “That will be done in the next two weeks. In the next fiscal year, we’re hoping to build some (intramural) fields across George Bush Drive, to make room for a softball stadium on the current Penberthy fields.”
Indeed, new softball and track and field facilities are the top priorities of the master plan, and capital campaigns for both will be under way in the coming years. Construction for both facilities, if approved by the university, could be completed in the next three or four years.
“I don’t think there’s No. 1 or No. 2 or a 1A or 1B in regards to priorities, but there’s a definite need for softball and track and field facilities to be (constructed),” Hurley said. “We’re in the process of gaining land, and we’re going to have to replace the intramural land we have gained with new fields. So those are the precursors to either one or both of those.
“To the best of my knowledge, I really believe outdoor track and softball are going to happen. My belief is we’ll have architects hired for both of those projects in 2014.”
In addition to future projects for softball and outdoor track and field, the new equestrian/cross country facility is expected to be operational by January and a short-game add-on to the Wahlberg Golf Center is just about complete.
But the grandest facility improvement of them all is officially under way as the redevelopment of Kyle Field goes full bore.
G. Rollie White Coliseum has been demolished, and the Read Building is being extracted from the east side of Kyle Field. On Sept. 30, construction will commence for a new northeast tower as part of the façade, while work will also begin for the press box and canopy on the east side of the stadium.
On Nov. 11, demolition around the stadium will consist of the Netum Steed facility and the south end zone video board, as well as the east side ramps and the first deck on the east side. Demolition work on the north end zone façade will also begin at this time, followed by the Nov. 25 tearing out of the old playing field.
And make no mistake, the sights and sounds of the redeveloped Kyle Field have stirred the Aggie masses. In fact, fundraising for the project skyrocketed in the month of August to unprecedented levels.
The seating areas for the redeveloped Kyle Field sold out in a matter of weeks in anticipation of the complete opening of the stadium in 2015.
“The speed in which it sold out somewhat caught me off-guard,” Dabney said. “I’m very appreciative for the donors who stepped forward. I think it’s going to be incredibly exciting. I think there are going to be moments of frustration; I think there is going to be awe at the sheer grandeur and scale; and I think there is going to be an element of pride for Aggies everywhere that will build from the time they see the northeast tower go up until the last brick is laid.
“It’s going to maintain what Kyle Field feels like but it’s just going to be so amplified. The finishing touches on it are just going to be so incredible. I think it’s going to be a real source of pride for Aggies everywhere. We thought coming to Texas A&M and experiencing Kyle Field before was a destination…it’s going to go way beyond that.”
But before Aggies can bask in walking through the gates of this redeveloped stadium, there is unfathomable work to be done…by an army of employees.
More than 1,900 construction workers from the Manhattan-Vaughn firms could be on site, clocking in on two, 10-hour shifts. Work could go around the clock as the season opener in 2015 looms.
“I can just see getting down to it and seeing shades of Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park, where for two weeks we worked 24/7,” Hurley said. “There is a lot of work that has to be done, but I feel really good about being able to play the first game in Kyle in 2014.”
Input from all points on campus has flooded into the project, with the Southeastern Conference office even chipping in with help with scheduling. It’s no coincidence that A&M finishes its home schedule early in November this fall and begins the 2014 schedule on the road at South Carolina in a made-for-TV game on Aug. 28.
“With any of the folks I deal with internally or externally, I can’t find any project like this in any way, shape or form and to this magnitude,” Hurley added. “That’s on several fronts. It’s on operations, logistics, etc. Everybody at every level has had to do their part, and so far everybody has done their part and far exceeded anything we could have imagined.
“I think it’s a tremendous logistic challenge. Populous has had a steady drum beat that this is the biggest college project and the most diverse challenge that they have had in terms of designing something and keeping something operational.”
Certainly the donors of the 12th Man Foundation have stepped up to make the redevelopment of Kyle Field possible. Because of the ability to privately fund major projects like the Cox-McFerrin Center for Aggie Basketball and Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park, A&M athletics and the university avoided serious debt and thus were able to jump into the bond market to help fund Kyle Field.
The original goal for capital gifts from premium suite and seat sales was $125 million, and the response in meeting that goal has been overwhelming.
It’s been a case of Aggies being Aggies.
“The growth Texas A&M has gone through and continues to go through is amazing. And we’re just starting,” Dabney said. “It’s truly what makes A&M unique. You don’t just come here and get a degree. So many people come here and they feel (the spirit) deep in their soul, and they carry it from the moment they leave this place until they can’t say it anymore. I don’t think the future has ever been brighter for Texas A&M.”
For those involved in the Kyle Field project—from Populous to the athletic department to the 12th Man Foundation—it’s been an arduous process so far in planning for the opening of the redeveloped Kyle Field. Planning meetings and brainstorming sessions have been occurring almost daily over the last year.
Now comes the physical, bricks-and-mortar phases of the project.
Certainly, the fruits of another 100-year decision will change the landscape of Texas A&M like never before.
“It’s an extremely gratifying experience,” Dabney said. “For those of us who are here right now, what you did in this time period right here, how you helped this project and how donors helped this project happen…it’ll be affecting people for 50, 60 and 70 years. And that’s an awesome feeling.”