The Eastern Washington University Board of Trustees unanimously approved a proposal by the school’s athletic department on Friday for renovations to its football stadium, Roos Field, a privately funded project with an estimated cost of $25 million.
Seven years after the board’s approval of a similar fundraising campaign, the failed $65 million Gateway Project, EWU athletic director Lynn Hickey believes the school can realistically raise the necessary funds to help improve the fan experience and boost the national profile of one of the most successful programs in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Roos Field currently has 10-year-old red turf in need of replacement, suboptimal visitor seating, and a variety of fan and student-athlete amenities that need upgrades that are long overdue, according to Hickey, who has helped spearhead improvements to what she dubs “the front porch of Eastern Washington University.”
With many fellow Big Sky Conference members continuing to improve their facilities, Hickey said that EWU, which has fielded the conference’s best football program in the 2010s on one of the conference’s lowest budgets, should look the part.
“Today is exciting, but it’s the just start of the race,” said Hickey during a press conference following the board’s approval. “We shot the starting gun off, now we have to get to the finish line.”
EWU president Mary Cullinan said that most of the money would need to be raised before the start of renovations, but said she didn’t have an approximate figure.
When asked how much money the athletic department has currently raised in private donations for this project, Hickey said her department wasn’t ready to disclose that information.
EWU said the next 18 to 24 months will be crucial in reaching the goal.
“We need some people to step up with some major (donations),” Hickey said.
The athletic department initially planned to give its proposal last spring, but because the school was in the midst of restructuring programs and cutting positions to help offset its $3.6 million deficit, it opted to reschedule the proposal for October.
Instead, EWU pushed the proposal to Friday, a day before the football team’s home opener against Lindenwood University.
In a standing-room only conference room on the EWU campus on Friday, the Spokane design firm ALSC provided artist renderings of eye-popping stadium improvements to the Board of Trustees.
Detailed drawings and photos each came with a price tag, including:
New red turf: $1.3 million, which will be replaced by the start of the 2020 season.
Track relocation: $3 million. The school’s track team will get a new facility, as the project aims to move the track from Roos Field, possibly to near the soccer fields south of the physical education building.
New seats/club area: $13.6 million. EWU wants to keep its intimate, loud capacity at 8,612 fans (with expanded seating on occasion), but has proposed brand new seats (benches, chairs and luxury seating), a new club seating area and an improved sight line for fans.
Visitor seating upgrade: With the current press box aimed to be converted into a suites area at a cost of $1.6 million, according to the renderings, the press box and concessions area will be moved to the current visitors bleachers area at an estimated cost of $2 million.
Hickey, who came to EWU in 2017 after a stint at Texas-San Antonio, where she helped start a FBS football team with private funds in 2011, jokingly asked whetherany reporters in the room were interested in paying for naming rights for the stadium.
It’s currently Roos Field, after former EWU offensive lineman and retired NFL veteran Michael Roos, who donated $500,000 to a previous stadium renovation in 2010.
As for whether it will still be called Roos Field if the fundraising campaign is successful, that’s not clear.
“We can’t say for sure right now, but there might be some opportunities for other donors as well,” EWU said in a press release about the project. “We are very appreciative of what Michael Roos has done for Eastern over the years.”
Cullinan said she’s excited about the project.
“This stadium renovation plan will elevate the whole campus year-round,” Cullinan said. “It will help Eastern recruit more high-caliber student-athletes and make that game-day experience even more memorable.”
Third-year head coach Aaron Best, who has been at EWU since he was a freshman offensive lineman in 1996, talked Friday about when there wasn’t much buzz on campus on college football Saturdays 20 years ago – and about how the culture has changed.
After the school’s 2010 national championship and 2018 national runner-up trophy, Best said a revamped field would help solidify EWU’s place as a football school.
“It gives me chills,” Best said. “Because this wasn’t the plan 25 years ago.”