By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Back in the 1950s, Rosemary Clooney, whose nephew is the actor George Clooney, had a hit song entitled “This Ole House” and Tuesday morning in his “ole house,” the West Virginia University Coliseum, you could almost hear athletic director Oliver Luck singing the lyrics as he explained the plans for $106 million in improvements that will be performed on Milan Puskar Stadium, the Coliseum and the other athletic facilities.
All that’s left is what seems to be merely the formality of the Higher Education Policy Commission passing the plan in its Friday meeting.
Clooney’s song began like this:
This ole house once knew his children
This ole house once knew his wife
This ole house was home and comfort
As they fought the storms of life
This old house once rang with laughter
This old house heard many shouts
Now he trembles in the darkness
When the lighting’ walks about
Like Clooney’s ole house, Milan Puskar Stadium and the Coliseum once rang with laughter and heard many shouts, but now they are in need of a facelift if they are to survive.
Time, you see, is catching up with them, even though Luck was quick to point out that they have been well-maintained and preserved over the years.
“The facilities here were always good but any building, even a house, 35 years old or older needs rejuvenation,” Luck said.
The Coliseum was opened in 1970; Mountaineer Field in 1980; the Shell Building in 1980.
The truth is, Luck pointed out, that since he was a student athlete at WVU, only venues used for competition have been built — the Dick Dlesk Stadium for soccer and the tennis courts. And, believe it or not, the tennis courts are not regulation-size and are no longer used for competition, a local indoor facility being used instead.
“I say that to let you know that a lot of our competition venues have aged. We’ve maintained them very well and they have aged gracefully. Thirty-four years of football and 44 years here at the Coliseum, but I think we reached a point where we needed to upgrade these facilities.” Luck said.
“Those who traveled out to Iowa State for the football game a couple of years ago, their stadium is effectively Mountaineer Field — built by the same architect, the same general contractor. If you noticed, what they did, they renovated their concourse level by pushing it out. Of course, it’s a lot easier to do there because they have a lot of flat space. I think they did a marvelous job.
“We don’t anticipate building a new basketball arena or football stadium, certainly not for the next 15 or 20 years, because the costs are prohibitive. We think this is a timing injection of money to update, renovate and rejuvenate the facilities we have.”
Most of the local emphasis will be spent on Milan Puskar Stadium, with the most pressing and immediate need being a team room for which $5 million has already been raised. Plans are that construction will begin in December.
Some may wonder why this is such a pressing need, so Luck offered the reasoning. He noted that there are only 80 seats in the room — fewer than the number of players on the team. He also noted that most football teams today have tiered team meeting rooms, which WVU does not, and bigger seating to accommodate today’s larger players.
“Other than video equipment, the team room has not been touched since it was built,” he said.
Also aimed at helping the athletes is redoing the tennis courts and getting them to regulation, possibly adding a banked track to the Shell Building and improving the Natatorium.
“The Natatorium is a beautiful building but doesn’t have the capacity for a 50-meter pool,” Luck said. “Quite honestly I was amazed (that) one of our swimmers this past year because a two-time All-American for us, who is an excellent student and a great kid, Bryce Bohman, could do that by training in a pool that’s only a 25-meter pool.
“That’s like asking Coach Carey or Coach Huggins to practice on half-court to play a full-court game.
“We’ve got to figure out how to make that a venue that allows us to compete in the Big 12, which is a pretty competitive pool for swimming.”
Most of the improvements, however, are aimed at fan satisfaction rather than helping the student athletes.
More than half the money will go to the football stadium, where the concourses will be improved and more entry points available, with improvements to concessions and rest rooms. In addition, a new scoreboard will be installed at the north end zone side of the field and LED signs at each of the four corners in the stadium.
“(Mountaineer Field) has held up well, but there needs to be some upgrades, not necessarily for the players. This is all for the fans and fan enjoyment at Mountaineer Field. We’ll do a lot of work on concessions. We’ll do a lot of work on the rest rooms.”
It’s possible that they will improve one side next off-season and the other the next, although they will be mirror-image improvements.
The VIP seats up front will be improved with heating added.
“They have not been touched since the stadium opened in 1980,” Luck said. “They are still some of the best seats in the house.”
And the Coliseum will eventually get a major facelift.
It will begin with a LED marquee board out front to alert passing traffic to what events are being held and coming not only in the Coliseum but also at the CAC.
However, concourses will be widened and a shortage of restroom facilities — down 102 units for a building of its capacity — and concessions — short 21 points of purchase positions — will be addressed. Interestingly, the bathroom shortage is one of the reasons beer and wine are not being sold in the Coliseum.
The seats in the Coliseum are beginning to demand attention.
“Literally, the seats in the lower bowl are the original seats. When a seat breaks, we can’t replace it. There are no more parts and they don’t manufacture them anymore,” Luck said, noting they are 44 years old. “We may need to reseat the Coliseum in terms of literally putting new seats in.”
And then there is an ongoing parking problem. Luck plans to put some money away to address problems that come in that area and said they may use the area occupied by Hawley Field, which will not be needed when the baseball stadium is completed, to help parking.
Also the university’s Evansville renovation may open as many as 425 parking spaces for basketball games.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.