By Paula Ann Solis
There isn’t any grass on the field at McLane Stadium, and few seats have been placed in the stands, yet project managers said they are sure in four months Baylor football will have its new home.
“We’re on schedule,” said Jim Heley, the senior project manger for Austin Flintco. “We will be open for the first game. No doubt about it.”
Heley said the stadium is near 80 percent completion and with 850 construction workers on site, the highest capacity to date, the Aug. 31 game against Southern Methodist University gives the team just enough time for the facility to be fan ready.
However, before the Baylor Line rushes the field for that first game, the entire Waco community will have an opportunity to see inside the stadium. Baylor’s annual Traditions Rally to kick off the season is set for Aug. 28 and is open to the members of the public, students and faculty.
At this first event the 47-feet-wide and 107-feet-tall video board should be ready, although now it is merely a metal frame. Panels are set to go on in three weeks, Heley said.
With a drainage system and placement of turf underway, Heley said one of the bigger projects he looks forward to completing is the $20 million canopy, which covers the top sections of the stadium creating shade for fans.
“It’s exciting, it’s like, the culmination of everything we do to have the first game happen and all the fans fill the stands and watch the whole thing come alive,” Heley said. “When all the fans come in, when the team’s out here on the field, I mean, that’s exciting, that’s awesome.”
Brian Nicholson, associate vice president of operations and facilities at Baylor, said stadium costs have reached $260 million to date and fundraising has surpassed the universities expectations. A surplus in funds has led to financing for other projects on campus.
Nicholson also shared in Heley’s assuredness that McLane Stadium is on schedule and will impress visitors.
“We’re extremely confident that we will be ready Aug. 31,” Nicholson said. “To the general public, when you come in it’ll be done. You’re going to see signage up, there’s not going to be wet paint, you’re seat will be in place. It will be a completed facility.”
Nicholson said seats and benches should be finished by early summer.
Todd Patulski, deputy athletics director, said demand for season tickets has been high and roughly 28,000 of the 42,000 seats are sold out. Premium suites, loge seats and club seats have all sold out for the 2014 season as well. A waiting list is in place for sold out areas.
One area already reserved, the President’s Box for Baylor President and Chancellor Ken Starr, has what might be the best view in the stadium. With a balcony that overlooks the Brazos River, Starr’s box will also sit adjacent to the video board with a view of the entire field.
While most fans won’t get to sit in the glass-enclosed suite reserved for Starr, they will have access to a new feature — free Wi-Fi.
Patulski said advances in communication technologies are popular features for NFL stadiums and have even made appearances at some colleges such as Texas Christian University.
“People sometimes choose not to go to a game because maybe their reception doesn’t work or maybe their phone doesn’t work,” Patulski said. “If that’s something that’s a priority for you as a fan, we’re going to have it at this stadium.”
The stadiums east side will seat 7,000 students from one goal post down to the next. The first 13 rows are reserved for the Baylor Line and the next 15 for other students. The proximity to the field for students is on par if not better than most college stadiums, Patulski said.
“We really thought students bring the environment, students bring all the excitement, they bring energy to a football stadium and so your goal is to make sure they come each and every game,” Patulski said. “You’re going to feel like there’s something going on at Baylor Stadium every game.”
Other changes at McLane Stadium affecting Baylor students include the new Baylor Line running path. Students will enter the field from a southwest tunnel and back into a tunnel on the northeast side. There will no longer be a rushing from the field to seat because students will only be seated after returning from the underground service area, Patulski said.
Heath Nielsen, Baylor’s associate athletics director for communications, said with the new stadium and the opportunity to defend a Big 12 championship victory, the football team is more than just pumped.
“Pumped is an understatement,” Nielsen said. “Coach Briles would say that we’re wearing the belt and that the rest of the league wants to take that belt out of our hands and it’s our job to defend that.”