Plans for new athletic complex gaining momentum

By Max Sullivan
On February 4, 2014

  • Opened in 1936, Cowell Stadium could undergo significant renovations costing $25 million.

The University of New Hampshire needs to raise $5 million to complete the funding of a $25 million athletic complex. UNH Athletic Director Marty Scarano said he's confident that UNH will be able to raise these funds in time to build the complex by 2015, which is in line with the plan the university released last week. 

"We've got a lot of engaged alumni and corporations that we're talking with," Scarano said. "I'm confident that we're going to do it. Certainly, there's no guarantees, but certainly we're having the right discussions with the right people."

University President Mark Huddleston said the fundraising effort has picked up significant momentum.

"We are still very early in the process of securing funding but I expect the great momentum to continue," Huddleston wrote in an email. "The university has already raised $1.7 million in private funds."

Pamela Diamantis, chair of the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees, agreed with Scarano.

"I've already [received] emails from a couple friends of mine who are already thinking about making donations, and these are folks that typically don't donate to UNH or do so in a much smaller level," Diamantis said. "If we continue to get people as excited as they are today, I have a pretty good feeling that that's going to come pretty easily."

The new complex will include a new football stadium, to be named West Stadium. The stadium will be built where Cowell Stadium currently sits and will seat over 10,000, adding a little more than 3,500 seats to Cowell's current 6,500. State of the art broadcasting and Wi-Fi capabilities, concession stands, and restrooms will be among the features that will bring the current UNH football facilities up to date. As the plans currently stand, there will be 480 premium seats, which will be priced higher, while the rest will be aluminum. Fans in the aluminum seating sections will be given "game day" stadium seats, which are attachable and have a backrest.

UNH is working with Populous, the group of architects who designed Camden Yards in Baltimore and Coors Field in Denver.

Scarano said he wants to make the new stadium similar to the Whittemore Center, with summer concerts featuring national touring acts, personal suites and, eventually, a student section. 

Scarano and the UNH administration have been taking a serious look at building a new facility since 2001, when Scarano said they did a feasibility study to determine where a new stadium should go, how many it should seat and other specifics. Between then and now, three or four more studies have been done, according to the athletic director.

Talks with key stake-holders about the new stadium became more serious nine months ago, Scarano said. 

"In the last nine months the discussions have really ramped up in anticipation of that meeting on last Thursday with the finance committee," Scarano said.

Even before Scarano took over the UNH Athletic Department, he was well aware that UNH's athletic facilities were due for an upgrade.

"[I knew] before I even arrived here, to be perfectly frank," Scarano said. "I was at Colgate for 13 years, and we brought two teams here when I worked there and thought it was a pretty unimpressive facility at that point."

What has bothered Scarano about Cowell is the message it sends to prospective students and their families. People who drive in to downtown Durham from Route 4 see the west side of the stadium on their right, and, according to Scarano, what they currently see does not represent the standards the university holds. This, he feels, is especially the case since UNH has been renovating McConnell Hall as well as the construction of the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics. 

"It's not at all representative of the institution and that's really what this is about. This is about branding of the institution," Scarano said. "You look at that chunk out there and you see these tennis courts, you look in the distance and you see these amateurish, high school stands - whatever the hell they are - across the way. If you look at the field outside, it's drab, it's broken, it's dated - you know - none of that is representative of our center campus."

Locker rooms will not be included in the additions. Those will remain in the Field House.

The athletic department is close to confirming with the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association that high school state football championships will also be held in the new facility. According to Scarano, the new facility brings in the possibility to host other major athletic events like the Special Olympics.

Scarano stressed that the facility is more than a new stadium for football, but he acknowledged that the football program played a big part in allowing this to happen. 

"So much of this is based on what [UNH football head coach] Sean McDonnell and the football program [have] done over the last decade," Scarano said. "I mean, if the program wasn't a good program, or if we were embarrassed by the program, none of this would have happened."

And having the announcement come only weeks after the end of the football team's best season ever seems fitting.

"It's perfect, isn't it?" Scarano said. "It's just perfect timing."

Because the university is looking to raise the final $5 million through donations, UNH spokesperson Erika Mantz said that tuition will not be impacted by the project. 

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