Fresno State is on track with its plans to renovate Bulldog Stadium – but athletic department and university officials have a wary eye on the east side of the 37-year-old venue.
Unexplained cracks in the seating areas and walkways on that east side could delay the start of the renovation for a year or longer, which would push a grand reopening past the 2019 season-opener to 2020 or perhaps even ’21.
We have the drawings about set. We have gifts coming in. We're working on naming rights. ... But we have to determine is it just the west side, or do we need to do it over a two-year span?
Fresno State athletics director Jim Bartko
“It’s the 100-pound gorilla,” athletics director Jim Bartko acknowledged.
Fresno State is eager to get going on updating the stadium that hosted its first game Nov. 25, 1980. Poor access and dated concessions and restroom facilities are at the top of the fix-it list.
The cracking on the east side of the stadium will have no impact on the 2017 football season, which kicks off Saturday against Incarnate Word, a game that will include a halftime ceremony when quarterback Derek Carr will have his No. 4 jersey retired and mark the start of the Jeff Tedford coaching era.
The university has conducted a number of tests on soil and the berm under the seating areas on the east side of the stadium, all to this point inconclusive. It is waiting for an answer on what exactly is causing the cracking, which in some areas is extensive.
The fix could be as simple as patching the cracks, which would allow Fresno State to remain on a timeline that wraps up on Sept. 7, 2019 with a season-opener against Minnesota in a newly renovated stadium.
It also could require a complete teardown, which university officials said could cost as much as $20 million and would force Fresno State to split the project over two years; the east side would be repaired one year, and the renovation would be completed the following year.
Funding for that project, if necessary, could come in part from the California State University system as deferred maintenance. But Fresno State might also have to raise a significant portion of the money to repair the east side of the stadium, which could be a tricky endeavor considering the price tag on the renovation already could run to $60 million.
The east side is the one kicker. It might be ’19 half of it and ’20 half of it, because we’re not going to be able to do it all at one time.
Fresno State athletics director Jim Bartko
“The east side is the one kicker,” Bartko said. “It might be ’19 half of it and ’20 half of it, because we’re not going to be able to do it all at one time.”
The renovation does not impact the middle sections on the east side of the stadium. But in taking on a project that includes tunnels into the seating bowl and cross aisles to improve access and flow through the stadium as well as a tower on the west side that will include suites, a stadium club and press box, school officials do not want to have to turn around in two or three years and take on another costly repair project.
“We’ll have architects and contractors on site, let’s do it all at one time,” Bartko said.
Either way, Fresno State is prepared to move forward on a project that now also includes new field turf to replace a playing surface that was installed in 2011 and by 2019 or ’20 will be nearing the end of its life span.
The athletics department is expecting within the next few weeks final designs from Aecom, a global architecture and engineering firm that has developed more than 100 college and professional stadiums or arenas and in October 2016 was chosen architect for the renovation.
It continues through a quiet phase of fundraising for the project. Bartko said Fresno State has received pledges totaling about $15 million.
It also is in the process of setting its pro forma for the CSU, which will include a naming rights deal and detailed financing plans for the renovation project.
“We have the drawings about set. We have gifts coming in. We’re working on naming rights,” Bartko said. “If it goes to the state board in January, they approve it, we then have a year to get the money in, get the final pledges, go back to the state board in November and we can start work that following January.
“But we have to determine is it just the west side, or do we need to do it over a two-year span?”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Fresno State vs. Incarnate Word, 7 p.m. Sept. 2 at Bulldog Stadium
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The Bee’s first Fresno State football preview magazine, included in the Aug. 31 edition of The Bee