Athletic department upgrading facilities
Published: Monday, March 7, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07
When Texas A&M hired Bill Byrne as athletic director in 2003, the athletic department had reached a pivotal crossroads at which it made a surefire commitment to become what the University knew it had the potential of achieving — transforming into one of the strongest and most successful athletic institutions in the country. A&M began spurning a new campaign of "Building Champions" in an effort to mold each sport, from football to track, into one of the Big 12's and nation's most competitive.
Among the many important factors involved in attaining such lofty goals, alongside crucial coaching hires and developing key sources of revenue, has been the hefty, though necessary, investment in first-class state-of-the-art facilities.
During Byrne's tenure, A&M has invested in a myriad of projects that has made the school one of the country's sleekest sports destinations. From the construction of the new indoor track and football practice facilities, to the Cox-McFerrin Basketball Center, to the Traditions Golf Clubhouse and the Bright Football Complex, A&M has broken new ground in its emphasis on athletic infrastructure.
"We pretty much had a master plan for what we wanted to do for our facilities at Texas A&M since I came here in 2003 and we've just been ticking ‘em off," Byrne said. "Facilities are absolutely critical for the success of an athletic program, so we're working hard to make certain that our facilities are the best in the country."
The visionary athletic director isn't stopping any time soon with the athletic department now moving to its latest endeavor: renovations of Olsen and Kyle Field and the construction of a brand new outdoor track facility.
Though the Kyle Field and track projects are still in their infant planning stages, the remodeling of Olsen Field, home of A&M's baseball program, has already begun. The stadium has served as the home for the baseball team for 31 years, but until now, no large-scale renovation had been undertaken.
This latest project will emulate features seen in major league parks from seating, to concessions, to dugout placement. In addition to an impressive exterior façade, the stadium will include new concessions, the replacement of bleachers with the construction of grassy berm seating areas on the first and third base sides and a brand new club seating area. Byrne likens it to the home field of the Houston Astros.
"If [A&M fans] have been to Minute Maid Park they're going to love the new dugout club. We're going to put in new club seating right behind home plate … but if they're been to Minute Maid [Park], they know that there's a bunker suite behind that where they can go in and have refreshments," Byrne said. "I think we're doing some great things for our fans."
The plan also includes a two-story student athlete center that features new locker rooms, a new players' lounge, new coaches' offices, and state-of-the-art training facilities.
Developments like these in any sport facility, particularly those that focus on the players' and coaches' experience, will not only benefit players that have already signed but also serve as one of the most effective recruiting tools a school has.
"With all the other teams getting new [baseball] facilities like Texas, Arkansas and LSU, it cuts back from the recruiting that [A&M] gets. Players want to go to those awesome facilities," said Kevin Gonzalez, senior catcher for the Aggies. "When a kid walks up and he sees a brand new facility that's got stands, that's got suites, that's got ice cream and they pack the house — that makes you want to play there."
The latest renovations to Kyle Field, meanwhile, will initially focus upon renovating the current structure and keeping its status as a premier stadium that keeps fans packing the stands. With the fan in mind, Byrne understands what features must be included to have a premier venue.
"I think the way that [A&M] fans view contests today is much different than it was 20 years ago. I think the fan amenities you need to bring to a modern ballpark are things that our fans now expect," Byrne said. "We need to upgrade our amenities from everything to restrooms, concession stands, seat width and walking space."
Though still in its planning stages, the project will include, as soon as 2012, vast improvements to the internal infrastructure and fan amenities. Air conditioning will be added to the restrooms, all of which will be brought up to code, along with the addition of more and better concessions. Tentative plans exist, in a later stage, to expand seating at the south endzone though most of the seating improvements will occur on the east and west side of the stadium. Continuous improvements to additional football facilities, including the Bright Complex, should also be in the mix.
Junior safety Trent Hunter, like Gonzalez, also understands what improved facilities mean to players and recruits, not just the fans.
"We have a lot of things that other schools don't have. We have the [Bright Football Complex], our own weight room and now they're doing all of these enhancements like TVs in the hallways," Hunter said. "You see a guy that's in high school and he's never seen all the stuff on the walls and trophies everywhere. To be able to come into a place and see ‘bling-bling' all over the place is an eye opener and gets [high school recruits] excited about [attending A&M]."
The outdoor track facility is still in its planning stages but will soon serve as the home to a program that has claimed four national championships in the sport. The current indoor facility features the same turf that was used in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games — known as "Mondo FX" turf. The outdoor track will not be using the same brand of turf, but the quality will be very similar.