Virginia Tech has been affected by the collegiate athletics arms race just as much as anyone. For a university that has dealt with average facilities for much of the department’s existence, the current administration has taken great strides in recent months and years to put Virginia Tech athletics on a higher pedestal.
Director of Athletics Whit Babcock, as well as Senior Associate Athletics Director Tom Gabbard, have brainstormed and implemented several new projects, many of which are underway. Perhaps the most notable and most expensive of those projects is the plan to completely renovate English Field at Union Park and Rector Field House.
Rector Field House
When it comes to Rector, the plan is to expand and update the current facility, which was constructed in 1971. Part of the renovations include a brand new indoor hitting area for the softball team, an update to the current indoor area inside Rector for the lacrosse, soccer and track and field teams, a larger indoor area that can be used for practice and games, new locker rooms and other amenities for Virginia Tech’s Olympic sports teams.
In all, the project cost roughly $18 million, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.
“The weather has kind of slowed us down a little bit,” Gabbard said. “Branch [Associates] is doing a good job. I don’t know if we’ll lose a week yet or not, the summer will tell the story I think. Everything is moving along. We’re right in the middle of that. We want to do something to the existing Rector at the same time.”
Gabbard said that soon, a new water line to the facility will be constructed, which will shut down Beamer Way temporarily.
In regards to the financing of the Rector project, Virginia Tech will likely take most of it on as debt.
“Some of it has been fundraised, most of it is debt,” Gabbard said. “Fundraising won’t ever be over, so I don’t know what the final number is there, but there’s a debt allocation that we can get it all in debt, if we need it. There hasn’t been a lot on that one.”
English Field at Union Park
Virginia Tech has had more success raising cash for English Field at Union Park. On March 21, 2016, Union Bank announced it was donating $3.5 million to Virginia Tech over a 10 year span, in exchange for naming rights to the stadium. That infusion of cash from the beginning helped Tech fund the project.
“The good news about English is that Union gave us a big donation, and it’ll be in part their name too,” Gabbard said. “That got us off to a really good start.”
Gabbard also said that the administration will be meeting with the Hokie Club to discuss other fundraising initiatives and naming opportunities for areas inside the stadium. In all, Gabbard says the English Field at Union Park renovations will run around $18 million as well.
Virginia Tech is getting plenty for their $18 million. The old English stadium has been entirely demolished, save for the actual field. When the project is done, the stadium will look completely different. Seating areas are being completely redone and moved closer to the field, and a club seating area will sit behind the first base dugout. Excluding the left field terrace seating, English Field at Union Park should hold about 1,500 spectators.
Along with the brand new seating, Virginia Tech is constructing a brand new press box and a modern video board to go with the new look stadium. The entrance is also being completely redone, as Virginia Tech aims for a Torgersen Bridge-type look.
Gabbard says that the project is on schedule. The old press box and seating have been removed, and the foundation for the new seating is being poured now. The way things are going, English Field at Union Park will be ready by the beginning of next season.
“It’s going to be a beautiful building,” Gabbard said. “[Whiting Turner] is doing a good job. They did the basketball practice facility, and they do a good job. Their crew, the guy that’s in charge of it, he’s really good.”
Gabbard did mention that he was disappointed that Pat Mason wouldn’t be around for the opening of the stadium. Mason, of course, was fired on Sunday after spending the last five seasons as head coach of Virginia Tech baseball.
“It’s unfortunate that the coach that helped us put it together won’t be here, but that’s the name of the game,” Gabbard said. “It’s a tough business. Coaching is a tough business… You just feel so bad for the families. They bust their buns, and it just doesn’t work out. It’s the right thing to do but golly, you hurt for them.”
Cassell Coliseum Seats and Merryman Center Renovations
Another notable project for Virginia Tech athletics are the new seats being placed inside Cassell Coliseum. Seats in the lower bowl, which have been in place since the arena’s opening in 1962, are being ripped out, and larger padded seats are being put in their place. For seats in the student section in the lower bowl, the new seats will be plastic instead of padded.
Gabbard says the old seats are being removed next week, with the new seats coming shortly thereafter. The whole project will be completed before the volleyball team begins their season in late August.
“It’ll be a nice seat,” Gabbard said. “They will be bigger, and fewer to a row. It’ll have everything it’s supposed to have. It’ll be a nice seat, but it won’t be leather.”
The addition of new seats will lower the capacity inside Cassell Coliseum, but not by a lot. Still, the removal of some seats could help Cassell look fuller on an average night, when there are plenty of empty seats in multiple areas.
“I think we’ll lose less than 500 [seats]. It’s more than 400 but it’s less than 500. I think the final count won’t be known until they finish everything, but that’s not a big loss,” Gabbard said.
Virginia Tech has offered the old, historic Cassell Coliseum seats for sale.
A minor renovation taking place this summer inside Cassell Coliseum is the reworking of the basketball gameday locker rooms, and the addition of a hallway directly from the men’s locker room to the media interview room.
Virginia Tech has already completed one of their major projects, as the golf section of the ground floor of Cassell Coliseum was renovated. The team now has access to two state-of-the-art golf simulators downstairs, as well as a putting green. The offices and lounge area were also redone. The golf project was part of a small renovation project encompassing all of Merryman Athletic Facility and Cassell, as Virginia Tech aims to make the building more visually appealing.
“Over the next six to eight months, you’ll see hallways getting graphics, just kind of sprucing them up,” Gabbard said. “We started in Merryman, of course, and we’re kind of going to pick up the game floor hallway, where the weight room is, then downstairs where the softball locker room, the golf simulator room and the training rooms are, we’ll do that.”
Among the projects underway are renovations to the McConnell Auditorium inside Merryman. The auditorium is used as a team meeting room for Virginia Tech football, and will be available once again in mid-September 2017.
“We’re tearing it up right now,” Gabbard said. “We’re flipping the seats and tearing them out, putting a whole new sound system in. It’ll be a football team room, new seats. We got a donation from a donor that said, ‘I’ll give you enough money to do it, and here’s my contractor, and he’s licensed in Virginia,’ so we’re going to do it.”
The Jamerson Athletic Center is home to one of the most important renovation projects on the horizon, as Virginia Tech aims to repurpose and expand the Bowman Room.
“That’s a major one… we want to do that one really bad,” Gabbard said.
We’ll address the Bowman Room project, as well as other future plans and ideas in Part II of this interview with Senior Associate Athletics Director Tom Gabbard, coming up on Friday.
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