DURHAM -- Duke’s five-year campaign to upgrade its athletic facilities is only in its second year, but the multi-million dollar project is already remaking the landscape of Blue Devil sports. Over the next year, the changes will become even more noticeable.
“The progress we’ve made to date — in both fund-raising and actual construction — is phenomenal,” Duke vice president and director of athletics Kevin White said recently. “While there is still work to be done, there is tremendous momentum in realizing Duke’s unwavering commitment to providing a world-class student-athlete experience, which is more than evident in the master facility plan.”
Duke president Richard Brodhead has also been impressed by the progress to date — and the plans for the immediate future.
“We’re beginning to visualize what the new facilities will contribute to Duke Athletics and to the entire university,” Brodhead said. “Duke’s athletic programs — our student-athletes, coaches and staff — are already well known for excellence, and it’s exciting to envision the ways that the new physical infrastructure will lift that excellence to new heights.”
Duke laid out an ambitious program in the fall of 2012 as part of the university’s $3.2 billion Duke Forward Campaign. The athletic department committed to raise $250 million for its own Building Champions Campaign — $100 million of that slated to improve campus athletic facilities.
Duke issued an update in April, outlining the progress in the fund-raising department. After just 18 months of the five-year plan, the university-wide Duke Forward Campaign had topped $2 billion in donations, while the athletic department’s Building Champions Campaign was at $173.4 million, 69 percent of its goal.
Blue Devil officials have made it clear that new construction was directly tied to the success of the fund-raising campaign. Unlike other schools, which have borrowed heavily to build new facilities and then found themselves scrambling to pay off a massive debt, Duke has adopted what basically amounts to a pay-as-you-go policy.
“A lot of our peers hit a certain mark and then start building…That’s fine, but it’s not how we do things at Duke,” said Mike Cragg, Duke’s deputy director of athletics/operations, who oversees the strategic planning for the school’s 26 (soon to be 27) varsity sports.
“All our strategic planning has been what’s right for Duke,” Cragg explained.
That approach has not slowed the progress of the Building Champions Campaign. The first fruits of the program are visible in the area bounded by Cameron Boulevard and Whitford Drive, where a number of new fields have been installed for use as practice fields, intramural fields and recreation fields.
“Those new fields have already proven very popular and useful,” Cragg said. “The next domino is the track stadium. That also impacts Koskinen Stadium as the Kennedy Tower, which overlooks both stadiums, is finished.”
The new track stadium is under construction this summer, located alongside Koskinen, where Duke’s soccer and lacrosse teams compete. The Chris and Ana Kennedy Tower, which includes suites and press areas, is located between the two stadiums and will serve both facilities.
The new track stadium is expected to be completed in December. That’s an important step in the university’s plans, since that opens the door to remodeling historic Wallace Wade Stadium. “After the (2014) football season, the track (at Wallace Wade Stadium) will come out, the field will be lowered and the stands extended down,” Cragg explained.
Duke’s project will add approximately 3,000 seats to Wallace Wade — an extra 8-10 rows closer to the field. Many of those seats will be new, individual seats with backs. In fact, a large number of seats in the bowl will be converted from bleachers to individual seats — eventually seven sections on both the East and the West sides.
The first conversions are already going in, as the seven East side sections are being installed this summer. That will be the only significant change to Wade Stadium for the coming season. The real work — and it will be massive — begins as soon as the 2014 Devils play their final home game (Nov. 29 vs. Wake Forest).
The first stage — the track removal, the lowering of field and the extension of the stands — has already been approved by the Board of Trustees. That part of the timetable is set.
“All this will be done before the 2015 season,” Cragg said.
That also includes moving the video board closer to the stands at the open end of the stadium and sliding the field two yards toward the closed end of the Wade horseshoe. That will actually center the field inside the stadium’s oval.
The next stage of the Wade reconstruction could also begin next offseason.
The athletic department will go before the Board of Trustees in September and present final plans to replace the Finch-Yeager Building (which overlooks the West side of the stands) with a five-story suites tower. While approval is expected, work on that stage of the project must wait until Duke Sports Medicine, which currently occupies the Finch-Yeager facility, can relocate. Still, Cragg has hopes that work can begin this winter.
“That’s a 20-month process…The plan is that we get started this winter and finish before the 2016 season,” he said.
The new tower will include suites, loges and a press facility. At the same time, Duke will refurbish the concourse, including new restroom and concession facilities.
A plan to enclose the open end of the Wade Stadium horseshoe is also on the table, but will be deferred until Duke’s football attendance — rising sharply in recent years as coach David Cutcliffe has revitalized the program — creates a demand for the extra seats.
The renovation of Wade Stadium is not the final stage of the Building Champions Campaign. “As that is going on, we’re still working on funding for changes to Cameron,” Cragg said.
Those changes involve construction of a new, expanded entrance at the West end (nearest Wallace Wade). Also planned is the Scott Pavilion in front of the current Murray Building. That facility will include training areas for Olympic sports, the ticket office, a new Nike store and administration offices.
The final stage of the project will be a plaza connecting the new entrance to Cameron, the Scott Pavilion and the entrance to Wade Stadium.
“To be sure, we are well on our way to having facilities in place to match the excellence found across the board within Duke Athletics,” Dr. White said.
Cragg pointed out that the new facilities will help the school’s long-term athletic finances by creating new revenue streams. For instance, the luxury suites in the new tower at Wade Stadium and the Club in Cameron should bring a source of revenue beyond what is currently available.
That’s important to the long-term health of Duke athletics, and worth a bit of inconvenience for Blue Devil fans over the next couple of years.
“We’ve got great people from President Brodhead to Kevin White on down working on this,” Cragg said. “I think we’ll all be happy and proud with the end result.”