by Mike Coffey
After many months of conjecture and consternation, details regarding the official Building Plan for Notre Dame Stadium, dubbed the Campus Crossroads Project, were released this morning via electronic distribution. Since the major parties are in Rome for the BOT meetings, there isn’t a press conference scheduled to give further details at this point. So we’ll use the distributed materials and see what there is to be seen.
This project best could be described as an academic/athletic hybrid, with three new buildings constructed immediately adjacent to Notre Dame Stadium. The West Building will focus on the students (including rec sports areas, social space, and offices for student activities), the South Building on the Music Department (allowing for much-needed modernization away from the current Crowley Hall), while Anthropology, Psychology, and FIDM will have their new homes in the East building. The East and West Buildings will also have luxury seating for football games, along with dedicated press areas. The creation of this replacement space will allow re-purposing of the existing areas these departments use, with the conversion of the Rolfs Sports Recreation Center into a long-awaited practice facility for the men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Lots to think about with this. Let’s dive right in on some of the immediate reactions and questions.
Why the mixed use? The program talks about the Stadium being “centrally located on campus”. While someone of not-so-recent vintage like me finds that difficult to fathom, I can see how the creation of academic buildings proximate to the Stadium would create that impression. It’s possible further construction plans might make the stadium more “central”, and the inclusion of all these functions in the structures being built certainly pushes ND in that direction. It still seems like a solution in search of a problem.
In the early days of these discussions, much was made about the desire to get more use out of the Stadium outside of the seven Saturdays a year ND plays games there. With this plan, however, I think they’ve focused on the use of the space outside the Stadium rather than the Stadium itself. This plan doesn’t necessarily portend concerts or monster truck rallies in the House that Rock Built. It does, however, mean the critical real estate immediately surrounding the structure will get utilized more (and, perhaps, better).
The mixed-use aspect will be (no pun intended) music to the ears of lots of long-suffering academic departments on campus, who will have football to thank for the fast-tracking of their salvation. Some of these projects likely would have been a tough sell to people with other preferences on how their money was used. By combining the projects and hitching them to football’s star, the departments in need get what they want on a faster timeframe. Winner winner, chicken dinner.
But it also might be the (perceived) spoonful of sugar that helps this athletics spending medicine go down. Writing checks for sports has always been difficult under the Dome — the accounting legerdemain needed to make sure more money wasn’t spent on the original A.C.C. than the library would have made Enron blush. Rumor has it some academic interest groups on campus have fallen into the habit of pushing back harder than usual any time a significant athletics-only project is put on the drawing board. With the significant academic investment of this project, it’ll be hard for the bookworm NIMBYs to raise too much of a fuss.
I think the inclusion of the classroom aspect does much more good than harm here.
It looks a little clunky. Yeah, I’m with you on that one. They’re building three new buildings right next to the Stadium, and it really looks like they’re building three new buildings next to the Stadium. There isn’t a lot of subtlety or nuance. Heck, I’ll settle for a token effort at blending. I’m hoping sometime between inspiration and implementation, someone gives at least a little bit of thought to the aesthetics. Would it be too much of a pain to fill in the connecting corners so the look is less hodge-podgey? I hope not.
Yay, no Jumbotron or Smurf Turf!! Hold on thar, Baba Looey. There isn’t anything said about either of those things. In fact, all of the quotes Fr. Jenkins is giving out seem to be taking great pains to point out that stuff will be talked about later. The presence of the buildings will block sunlight and make grass even more difficult to grow, so an announcement in a couple weeks about turf probably wouldn’t be an unreasonable expectation. There’s a “put the giant TV here”-sized space above that South Building, and those big ol’ gaps remain on the north end.
It’s not a done deal — the project will include possible compromises that can give those who desire the tech experience what they want while preserving the experience for those who don’t prefer it, such as increased broadband capacity to allow the use of personal video devices. The releases and interviews state advertising within the Stadium remains verboten at the moment. And to Fr. Jenkins’ credit, he recognizes the importance some alums and fans place on keeping a football game at Notre Dame Stadium an understated and classy event:
“If you look at many pro stadiums with the big video boards, they look like a circus,” Jenkins said. “They just don’t have that traditional feel, and we don’t want to lose that. And in the minds of many of our supporters it’s the tension between preserving the tradition while embracing whatever developments will enhance the experience. I think all of those are part of the decision.”
But we’ll still be watching how the discussions progress with interest.
The luxury seating might get the down-in-front crowd out of the bowl!. Perhaps. I find it odd they put open-air premium seats above the wall line. Those are going to be mighty chilly places to be later in the season. If they were to put the seats behind glass and angle those seats in like a lot of other stadiums have done, that might be helpful in keeping the noise in the Stadium where it can do the home team some good. Another line item for the before-you-sign-off-on-this list, perhaps?
Hey, basketball gets their practice facility!! Yes, they do. But they don’t get it soon, and parts of the situation still irk me.
The nitty gritty: The Rolfs Sports Recreation Center will be replaced/expanded on as part of the West Building, which will leave the existing 66k square foot building looking for a purpose. According to the release, that purpose will be the practice facility Mike Brey was promised 14 years ago.
On the good news side, 66k square feet would put Notre Dame among the leaders size-wise in such facilities in college basketball, and definitely at or near the top of the ACC. The building is close to the Joyce Center (albeit on the wrong side), and what they save in construction costs can be used for, perhaps, a tunnel? Hell, make it a labyrinth and connect the Gug to the Stadium while we’re at it. While I’m not a fan of form taking precedence over function, I’m reasonably confident such square footage will allow both teams to get what they need out of the project on a lot of fronts.
But I wouldn’t be me without some cantakerosity, and it’s not the way I was hoping the project would go down. The entire thing is the football-comes-first philosophy writ even larger than usual. It’s announced in a two-sentence blurb in a football-focused project. They won’t be able to start gutting Rolfs until its replacement is ready, which means we’re looking at five years or so before the first wall is knocked down (although that could be mitigated by creative use of the North Dome). And God help us if the CCP falls short of its $400m fundraising goal or the project hits cost overruns, because keeping Rolfs just the way it is could be a strong temptation for those looking to save a couple bucks — assuming the cost of doing it is part of the $400m in the first place.
Yes, I’m happy the facility is finally more than words on the ether. But this is Notre Dame and this is men’s basketball, so until I see a blueprint or hear a jackhammer, I’ll remain skeptical. 14 years will do that to a guy.
All-in-all, this is a hell of an endeavor. $400m is quite the ambitious undertaking, and it’s going to be an interesting five years watching it get put together. I think most of the intentions going into this are good. The cynic in me hopes they stay that way.