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  • Standing at the Crossroads

    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.

    14 Responses to “Standing at the Crossroads”

    1. I really like it.

    2. Someone has to pay for all this. I’ve already received that ominous email: “A representative of the University will contact you in the coming months to walk you through the timeline and process”. Translated, that means walk you through your checkbook.

    3. My TV is looking more and more appealing. Wow, that’s a lot of cash.

    4. mpsND‘72 says:

      It’s Fund Raiser Time for all the true believers. Alleluia!

    5. USAF Irish says:

      I love this idea. It clearly combines academics and athletics in a balanced way. Shrouds the love of football in the robe of enlightenment. Will bring millions of dollars to the University. Fr. Jenkins deserves accolades.

    6. Will the press box corps get sunglasses since they’ll be looking into the afternoon sun?

    7. Fearless Flea says:

      Major HUBRIS at work here. The stadium has never been the central part of the campus. Bieng a “Catholic” (??) university, the centerpiece on campus is supposed to be Sacred Heart Basilica, our house of God, not the house of the sports money god. Our university has lost its way ever since the retirement of Frs. Hesburgh and Joyce, and the current administration is so enamored with the temporal and being competitive with the Stanfords of the world. It also hides the stadium and makes it look like an afterthought on an urban campus. Disappointing work.

    8. I like it all. Very exciting news!! ND stadium should be the most state of the art facility in college football. Second to none, just like the student athletes! Time to add a new chapter to the history of Notre Dame athletics, and academics!

      • I am a Marquette U grad but a Irish Fan since Marquette gave up football— I started as a ND Fan when my brothers & I listened to ND beat OSU in 1935 which has since been called the best Football game “ever” I even know remember the names of some of the players who starred in that game that are never mentioned by the writers PILNEY, Puplis, and Fromhart– There are others which even we don’t remember but we listened intently on our small radio in our kitchen –If they collect $400 Mil during this campaign it will be a great feat—My purse is small and my wife is a great mother (nine) great children and many grand kids but but we might be able to squeeze out something. We’ll keep in touch !

    9. Maybe we ought to first invest in a men’s basketball coach who CAN get this program into the Top 20 consistently AND win NCAA tournament games instead of one win every four years. And ok … make the other basketball facility improvements … to remove all excuses. Raise the bar on “what good looks like”, ND … We’re tired of rooting for a mediocre men’s basketball product. It’s really starting to get embarrassing. No … it is already embarrassing.

    10. I’m a fan of these additions to the stadium.

      Some folks have pointed out that the stadium isn’t in a truly “central” location, but I’ve got to disagree. While it isn’t as traditionally central like maybe Alumni Hall, or the Main Building, it’s certainly near a significant amount of student pedestrian traffic. The stadium sits directly behind one of the most commonly utilized classroom buildings, DeBartolo Hall, and also near the (relatively) new science building, Jordan Hall. I shouldn’t need to point out, either, that it’s not particularly distant from the library. Thousands of students utilize these buildings every day and come within spitting distance of the stadium to do so. The new West building will bring a modern recreation facility and a modern student lounge closer to the center of campus, and the large student population in the South Quad area.

      Converting Rolfs to a basketball facility might sound like an afterthought, but at least basketball is getting some attention. The JACC is old and funky and at this point any augmentation to those facilities, connected or not, is an improvement.

      I would love to have had these facilities at my disposal I was a student, rather than the Stadium just being something I had to walk around. And, let’s face it, as a student I visited the Basilica probably less than five times in my four years at Notre Dame. Call me a heretic, but student life doesn’t center around mass, it centers around class and social life (which depends directly on football half the year). This project seems to reflect that fact.

      • Jimmy McClaren says:

        Heretic! Seriously though, when was the last time you were on campus? Did you ever watch the doors of the Basilica on Sunday morning? Observe the sea of students pouring in? Did you never attend a 10pm dorm Mass on Sunday night? Did you miss all the Masses going on around campus on a daily basis? How about the 9pm Easter Sunday student Mass when the basilica is full of only students, standing room only? Just because your life doesn’t center around the Mass doesn’t mean student life doesn’t center around the Mass. Come back home. Come to Mass. Jesus is always waiting!

    11. 1.) Fearless Flee…….WELL STATED!!!!!

      2.) THE PRODUCT ON THE FIELD THEN BETTER BE JUST AS GOOD AS THIS RENOVATION!!!!!!

    12. I graduated In May 2008 and was last on campus in the spring of 2012. I attended mass irregularly as a student and rarely at the Basilica.

      I didn’t intend to suggest that no students ever go to mass, I wanted to point out that the student-life-oriented facilities planned for the West Stadium building will be located close to three buildings (the library, DeBartolo & O’Shaughnessy Halls) utilized by thousands of students each and every day.

      We can endlessly debate what’s “central” to life on campus, geographically or otherwise, but I think these renovations are located in appropriately accessible and high traffic area and aren’t a “solution in search of a problem,” or an example of “major hubris.”

      N.B. I’m not the Aaron that supports Fearless Flea below.

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