Marek Warszawski

Crumbling, leaking Bulldog Stadium in dire need of some TLC

My first car, a hand-me-down from my parents, was a 1975 Volvo sedan.

Like most kids getting their first taste of freedom, I drove all over the place. Never checked the oil and seldom had it changed. Never took it in for a tune-up. Never had the brakes or hoses or belts inspected.

Just figured it would run forever.

Then one day I was motoring over Pacheco Pass with four buddies en route to the Sierra. Smashed my foot to the floorboard after we passed Los Banos, and from beneath the hood came a sound I’d never heard an engine make before.

It moaned and died.

The lesson I learned, from being stranded outside Dos Palos all those hours and later having to tell my dad, was that things don’t run forever.

Not unless they’re maintained.

Kind of like the situation Fresno State finds itself in right about now with aging, crumbling and (now) leaking Bulldog Stadium.

Jim Bartko has big plans for the sunken concrete bowl on Barstow Avenue. The Bulldogs’ athletic director wants to pour $60 million into new luxury suites, club seats, concession areas and restrooms, plus tunnels and walkways so fans can more easily enter the stadium and get to their seats.

Except during the 26 months(!) since Bartko first showed us those spiffy renderings of Bulldog Stadium 2.0, the place has really started to show its wear.

The first signs were the cracks that have formed on the stadium’s east side. There are cracks in stairways, cracks in walkways, cracks all over the place. These cracks could be superficial, or they could represent a major structural weakness. Further tests are needed.

Then last weekend, a 4-inch irrigation line burst, creating a large hole in a concrete surface near the main entrance and sending a torrent of mud and debris down the ramp and onto the field.

Following Monday inspections by geologists and structural engineers, the university elected to close off the section nearest to the flood zone, section 38, for Saturday’s game against Nevada.

Unless someone more qualified than me concludes something different, section 38 should be closed indefinitely.

Just like 1975 Volvos, stadiums don’t run forever.

Since Bulldog Stadium hosted its first game 37 years ago, there have been a few modest improvements: a press box and suites added in 1991; a new playing surface, video boards and fencing.

But these all count as superficial. The guts and infrastructure are the same as when the place opened. What we’re seeing in the form of cracked cement and burst pipes is what happens when something doesn’t get maintained.

In this case, that something is Fresno State’s largest asset when it comes to producing revenue.

Two years is a long time to keep a community hanging onto a dream. Since June 2015, when Bartko unveiled his stadium plan, he says he’s been able to raise $15 million in private donations. Which is commendable.

More elusive has been securing a stadium-rights deal. University officials have made presentations to several area companies (Wonderful, Table Mountain and California Almond Growers among them), but so far those overtures haven’t borne fruit.

For that reason, plus the specter of the east-side cracks hanging over the entire project, the push for a new-and-improved Bulldog Stadium remains stuck in third gear.

Having to repair and clean up a mess during a game week and close an entire section out of safety concerns could be seen as a further setback toward much-needed stadium renovations. But it doesn’t have to be.

Instead, I sense an opportunity.

Cracking foundation and inconclusive geologist reports are one thing. The public now has muddy, visible evidence of how things really are. How the stadium where the Bulldogs play football desperately needs some TLC.

Bartko and his people can use that to their advantage, if they so choose.

The trick, of course, is finding the money to solidify the crumbling east side and repair aging infrastructure. None of which was included in the original $60 million price tag for renovations.

School officials believe they’ll be able to tap into Cal State University facility maintenance funds. Which means it’ll be up to President Joseph Castro to shake that money tree. It’s also possible the university may have to cover some or all of those extra costs through fund-raising.

Bulldog Stadium can’t be left to further dilapidate. That much is clear. However, it may be necessary for Bartko and Fresno State to scale back on the grandiosity, especially in designs for the west tower containing the luxury suites and club seating, to something they can actually afford.

Rather than continuing to sell a dream, time to accept reality.

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee