Changing the Game: The Opportunity for Renovation

The era of building big new stadiums with big price tags is over. For top-tier collegiate athletics programs, renovation of their facilities is increasingly becoming a viable, if not preferred, alternative to construction of new buildings. While the trend started because of practical limitations—such as constrained capital or lack of land—renovation is gaining interest because of its ability to preserve a program’s history and traditions. Renovation can also enhance athletic integration into an overall campus by better utilizing established, admired buildings. Together, these considerations afford tremendous recruitment potential and energize donor support.

I believe many collegiate sports renovation projects fail, in part, because architects only address formulaic issues and devalue the character or history of treasured buildings. This is a mistake, especially when many elements of old stadiums function well, and even more so when the bowl and exterior are recognized as an integral part of an athletic program’s history, like Pauley Pavilion at UCLA for example.

In order to learn from the lessons of the past, there are several considerations facility managers and architects should make when approaching renovation at the university level:

Economics and Phasing - In my experience, universities can no longer afford the high capital investment for new facilities, nor can they afford the revenue loss from being displaced during construction so phased renovation has become a necessary option.

Multipurpose – Renovation should address issues such as event loading, A/V systems, and arena-seating configurations so that the facility can be flexible for other revenue-generating sport or concert events. In addition, you'll want the building to be adaptable for future changes in the athletics program's use of the building.

Role of Athletics - Collegiate sports facilities are no longer seen as having limited use or being extracurricular, which once resulted in them being located on the fringe of a campus or community. They are now seen as being integral to a more complete education and student wellness, which is driving an increasing desire to locate these buildings in more strategic centers of campus, and open them to broader student use.

History – At NBBJ, we believe that understanding the history of a sports facility is critical in the approach to renovating it. The dignity of the original space must continually influence decisions and serve as a touchstone. It is important that the new facility preserve the original atmosphere and identity, while enhancing the fan experience, sightlines, media, and most of all the team’s home court advantage. This balance will provide a unique and powerful recruiting tool, and will facilitate greater alumni support.

Campus Masterplan – The collegiate sports facility must be a campus building first, embodying the values of the university and respecting adjacent campus buildings and their users. To achieve this, the design team must carefully consider the university masterplan, circulation patterns, and future campus growth. This is more complex than a typical sports facility and requires that the design team include integrated campus planning expertise to fully understand the project’s long-term implications.