Sports facilities on NIU agenda

By Jeff Kirik

Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell, using words like “deplorable,” “embarrassment” and “anitquated” to describe the condition of Huskie Stadium, said Friday NIU is considering a renovation of the 24-year-old structure.

The university recently invited four architectural firms to study Huskie Stadium and then make presentations on how the firms would propose to overhaul the complex.

O’Dell said an upgrade of the facility has become crucial to the growth of Huskie football and several other NIU sports programs that use the stadium.

“You’re looking at a facility that is really outdated,” said O’Dell. “That facility needs to be better utilized. Space needs to be reclaimed—there’s so much wasted space.

“There’s not adequate locker-room space. (The locker rooms) are an embarrassment. There’s not enough training room space or equipment room space. All of those things are totally inadequate for a Division I program, whether its football or women’s softball.”

The main target of the renovation would be the permanent cement structure on the west side of the stadium. O’Dell said improvements in that building need to be made in numerous areas, such as office space, concessions, handicapped accessibility and press box accommodations. That structure is currently the training and locker-room site for the football, soccer, softball, field hockey and men’s and women’s gymnastics programs.

“What bothers me is that the locker room our softball team and field hockey team use—which again is old, small and poorly ventilated—that’s the visiting team’s locker room for football games. That’s deplorable,” O’Dell said.

Although he said the renovation is still in the planning stages, O’Dell added he would be “extremely disappointed” if the university did not go through with the overhaul.

“Without better facilities,” he said, “we won’t even maintain status quo. This athletic program would deteriorate rapidly to a point where it would be very difficult to move ahead.”

At least one informed outsider agrees with O’Dell. After praising the recruiting efforts of football coach Jerry Pettibone in February, national talent scout Tom Lemming said NIU would need a better stadium if it hoped to see its football program improve.

Lemming said, “If (NIU) were going to get any better they’d have to improve their facilities. I think Pettibone’s bringing them as far as they can go with the low-rent facilities they have.”

Although he admitted the west side of the stadium would be the key target of the renovation, O’Dell said other parts of the stadium require improvement. Among these areas were lighting, the field’s artificial surface and bleachers throughout the stadium, which currently seats about 31,000. Eventually, he said, a permanent structure could be built on the stadium’s east side.

“If you talk about putting 20,000-plus people in the stadium on a consistent basis, that stadium will not handle those kind of numbers,” he said. “As a matter of fact, it’s probably more suitable for 10,000.

“Long-range, we’d look at improvement with some type of permanent structure on the east side. But I don’t think we need to have in excess of a 30,000-seat stadium.”

Money for the project, which would require the gutting of the west-side structure, would have to come from outside money, such as that raised by the NIU development program.

O’Dell described the next two steps if the university decides to go ahead with the renovations. “Step one, we would have to make a decision on one of those firms if we want to move ahead with the project,” he said, adding it would take three or four years before the work would be completed. “Two, we commission one of those firms to then put together an assessment of that facility as far as cost and utilization of space.”