UH may build track facility

Zarana Sanghani

Senior Staff Writer

A proposal to the University of Houston has inspired ideas to expand the Robertson stadium itself and build a new track facility, Athletics Director Chet Gladchuk said.

The city of Houston proposed that UH expand its track inside the Robertson stadium to be eligible for the 2000 Olympic trials and the 2007 Pan American Games.

"The (stadium expansion) project was initiated by the intention of the university to work with the city of Houston to use Robertson stadium for the Olympic Trials bid," Gladchuck said.

"In the long term, in the best interest of the university, it would be best to build a separate track facility. Then we can work with the stadium exclusively for football," Gladchuk added.

No plans or projects have been confirmed. UH is in the preliminary steps of proposing the project.

The stadium expansion is "a concept and a vision that we hope will become a reality," Gladchuk said. "We've been talking about the importance of a stadium on campus, the pageantry of football and the possibility of it."

He added that "we're actively developing a plan to do that, and we've been actively soliciting the funds to do that."

UH System Chancellor/UH President Arthur Smith said that once the track in the stadium is moved to a new track facility outside the stadium, UH can increase the number of seats.

Taking the track out of the stadium will allow UH to put in more seats in place of the track, closer to the playing field, Smith said. "We want to get the track out of the stadium so we can make it a more appropriate venue for football. Once we get the track out, we can put in seats where it was. Those new seats will put the fans closer to the game."

The National Collegiate Athletic Association requires that if a Division 1A college, such as UH, wishes to play home football games exclusively in their campus stadium, the stadium must have a minimum of 30,000 seats, Gladchuk said. Robertson stadium has fewer than 30,000 seats.

Smith said that in the past, UH played several home games at the Astrodome to accommodate the requirement. This is not an optimal plan, Smith admitted.

"The Astrodome was a financial drain," Smith said. "We had no control over the parking and the concession stands. Success

is going to depend on getting (games) back on campus."

Smith added that games create a more excited atmosphere on campus than off campus.

Faculty Senator Jerry Strawser said UH needs to do more research before confirming the project, such as "a survey of students to see if they would go to a game on campus rather than the (Astrodome). Without things like that, it's hard to see if the project will be viable."

When UH had games at the Astrodome, 40,000 to 50,000 spectators attended, according to ticket records.

Smith and Gladchuk said games on campus could boost student involvement in football.

To renovate the Robertson stadium simply to accommodate a larger track, which would decrease seating capacity, would cost approximately $8 million, Gladchuk said.

To build a track facility outside the stadium, UH would spend approximately $4 million. The new track facility would include permanent seating for 6,000 to 6,500 people, with expandable seating for up to 16,000 spectators, Smith said.

Costs to expand Robertson stadium's seating capacity after the track is removed have not been determined, Gladchuk added.

Though the athletics department has just begun exploring the plans for construction and funds, Smith said he completely supports the ideas behind the project. "We should definitely do (the expansion), but we cannot do anything until we have (more information), the funds and the approval of the Board of Regents," he said.

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