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Nathan Baker

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ETSU officials weigh options for stadium design, site

March 1st, 2014 9:03 pm by Nathan Baker

ETSU officials weigh options for stadium design, site

From top, Wofford College's Gibbs Stadium, Austin Peay State's Governors Stadium, and UNC-Charlotte's Jerry Richardson Stadium have all been considered as potential models for a new ETSU football stadium.

A month after East Tennessee State University named the recruiting class for its rebooted football team, school officials are still considering sites and designs for the new stadium in which they will play.

While the location of the team’s new football stadium isn’t set in stone, university President Brian Noland said it’s been narrowed down to one of two spots on the college campus’ western third, each of which present design challenges and benefits.

If the arena is built on the hill behind the physical plant, one of the locations being considered, it would be relatively free of flooding concerns, but construction would require a greater amount of grading and site preparation, which could inflate the cost.

If it’s built lower, where the intramural soccer fields lay now, there would likely not be as much digging, but construction crews may have to mitigate flooding to keep the field dry.

As designers study both locations to pinpoint the most cost-effective solution, Noland said two sets of preliminary plans are being formulated, so the college will be ready to quickly begin construction when a site is officially selected.

ETSU Athletic Director Richard Sander said architects have produced some early proposals for the sites during charrettes, design sessions aimed at creating proposals for dealing with the sites’ unique attributes.

Like many collegiate open-air stadiums, Sander said ETSU’s will likely follow one of two basic designs.

If the stadium is built on the hill, he said it will likely be built below-grade, dug down into the earth with seating built on the sloping sides. If it’s built in the lower location, the stands will have to be built up from scratch.

Sander said ETSU dignitaries have visited a few similarly sized college stadiums recently to view the different designs that could be employed locally.

One, Jerry Richardson Stadium on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, is representative of the below-grade construction.

The horseshoe-shaped stadium has a seating capacity of 15,314 spectators and has artificial turf covering the playing surface.

The UNC Charlotte 49ers played their first regular-season game in the facility last August after 18 months of construction at a cost of $45 million, which includes the stadium and a field house.

Officials stayed in-state to view the second, raised stands-type of stadium, on the campus of Austin Peay State University.

The Clarksville college is in the midst of a $16 million demolition and redesign of its Governors Stadium, adding a four-level clubhouse with offices and training spaces on the home side of the field.

The new stadium will seat approximately 10,000 and will keep the pre-existing track that rings the synthetic turf field.

After playing the final game of the season in 2013, Austin Peay intends to have the stadium completed and ready to field a team in 2014.

The rebooted Bucs could play in a stadium like the third example Sander mentioned, Gibbs Stadium, home of ETSU’s soon-to-be Southern Conference opponents, Wofford College.

Gibbs Stadium was built partially below grade and seats about 13,000 spectators.

The stadium was built on the Spartanburg, S.C., campus in 1996 for $4.5 million, but Sander said recent updates caught ETSU’s eye.

In Gibbs, fans can watch the Wofford Terriers on a 57-feet-by-22-feet LED video board installed in 2010, one of the 30 largest in college football.

ETSU is contemplating a stadium with at least 10,000 seats at an $18 million cost.

Last year, the college’s Student Government Association approved a $125 per student per semester fee to contribute $7.5 million in funding to the rebooted program.

Sander said a private fundraising effort should begin soon, and a season tickets-selling campaign should help with the costs.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey vowed to make money available for the stadium project, but Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed higher-education capital project budget did not include funding for ETSU’s stadium this year.

School officials said the new Bucs will likely play at Science Hill High School’s Kermit Tipton Stadium in 2015, and then move into their permanent home in the new stadium for the 2016 season.

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