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The Virginian - Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)
Old Dominion's plans to tear down and rebuild most of Foreman Field, the school's 20,118-seat football stadium, have so far passed muster with the General Assembly.
ODU proposed in June that it would demolish the 80-year-old east and side stands and replace them with modern seating. The $55 million project would expand seating capacity to 22,130 and would be done without raising student fees.
The renovation must be approved by the General Assembly. Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, said ODU President John Broderick and other school officials have convinced state officials that it's a good project.
"They have come to Richmond and made a good case," he said. "This is not going to involve any student fee increases or any additional money. It's fiscally prudent. Everything appears to be a go."
If all goes according to plan, the east and west sides would be demolished immediately after the 2018 season and rebuilt in time for the Monarchs to open on Aug. 31, 2019, against Norfolk State.
ODU's request was part of Gov. Terry McAuliffe's budget, a necessary first step. Then, on Sunday, the House and Senate budget committees released their proposed amendments to his budget, and the stadium proposal was left unchanged.
The House and Senate budgets will be reconciled next week in advance of the General Assembly's scheduled adjournment on Feb. 25.
ODU's proposal is modest compared to the $90 million upgrade of football facilities that James Madison began in 2010. That included tearing down and renovating most of Bridgeforth Stadium, at a cost of $62 million ($68 million in 2017 dollars), and building a new football training facility.
At the time, there was less scrutiny of student fees and the impact they were having on college affordability .
Since then, Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, the House Majority Leader, introduced legislation that became a law that caps the percentage of a school's athletic budget that can be funded by student fees. Slowing or reversing the rising costs of tuition and fees has been a theme of the current General Assembly session.
ODU costs a full-time student $10,046 in tuition and fees in 2016-17. That ranks 12th of the state's 15 public four-year schools and last among schools that offer doctoral programs.
ODU proposed expanding Foreman Field in two phases, with most of the bells and whistles put off until Phase II. There is no identified funding for Phase II, which would cost $95 million.
Amenities in Phase II include a $39.5 million tower on the west side that would contain luxury suites, a stadium club and new press facilities. Phase II would also include a new scoreboard and home locker rooms and a horseshoe-like expansion on the north side of the stadium that would increase seating to 30,000.
Broderick said he decided to put off those amenities to ensure student fees would not increase.
"I've maintained from day one that this is a proposal we can afford," he said. "It does not require any new student fees to pay for it. In this time of well-deserved scrutiny on the cost of higher education, that was an important part of the decision I made on the scope and cost of the project."
Even without those amenities, the stadium would vastly improve the experience for fans who now crowd into narrow aluminum seats and are often forced to use portable restrooms and wait in long lines at concessions stands. The east and west sides would have 15,500 individual chair-back seats and new rest rooms and concessions stands that would be modeled after those in the Constant Center, ODU's basketball arena.
"It would actually allow stadium patrons to use a real bathroom and not a port-a-potty," Wagner said.
ODU had been funding nearly 70 percent of its athletic budget with student fees when Cox's student fee bill became law. It has been dropping every year and must eventually fall to 55 percent or less.
Athletic director Wood Selig has said the school "is slowing weaning itself off of student fees."
ODU officials say they have been careful in recent years to limit the use of student fees on capital improvements for athletic facilities.
The $8.4 million Mitchum basketball training facility was funded from donations, and a $3.5 million expansion of the L.R. Hill football complex was paid for with money from athletic reserves. Both facilities are nearly complete.
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