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Copyright 2018 Orange County Register
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Orange County Register (California)


For Saddleback College head football coach Mark McElroy, plans to construct a new football stadium at the school's Mission Viejo campus were a long time coming.

"I played here as a student-athlete in 1979 when we were promised a new stadium," McElroy said.

Just shy of four decades later, that promise is being fulfilled, with a new $55 million facility expected to open in the spring of next year. The college broke ground on the project March 12.

Saddleback College officials are banking on the stadium benefiting south Orange County, one of the fastest-growing areas in the region.

The new facility, which will host football as well as track and soccer, could also serve as a home venue for local high schools.

College President Gregory Anderson also envisions the facility being used for concerts, high school graduations and ceremonies, and community events.

"We really foresee this as being the premier hub for entertainment and sports throughout south Orange County," he said. "Once you go south of UCI, you've got to go down all the way to San Diego before you find something of this caliber."

The original structure, built in 1976 and unable to keep up with modern-day demands, seats 3,800, with bathrooms and bleachers for visiting fans located outside the facility. Aging wooden steps lead to an outdated seating area and an announcer's booth.

The limited seating sometimes forced fans at high school football games to sit elsewhere to view the contest, said Dan Clauss, Saddleback's athletic director.

"We ended up having several of our spectators sitting up on a hill," he said.

The new stadium will come with a slew of amenities.

It will accommodate up to 8,000 spectators and feature a nine-lane running track; four artificial turf fields - two for football practices and one each for football games and soccer matches; a concession stand; storage units for football, soccer, and track and field equipment; a press box; team meeting rooms; a scoreboard; and a platform for views of all the fields.

Other bells and whistles include Wi-Fi access and a "throws" area for hammer, shot put and discus.

The closest venues of comparable seating capacity are at Orange Coast College, Cal State Fullerton and the Santa Ana Bowl, all at least 20 miles away.

The track will meet NCAA and USA track and field standards, with the hope that it will bring national and state track meets to the area, officials said.

"Our big goal is the 2028 Olympics," Clauss said. "We'd love to be a practice facility for track and field."

During the football postseason, the stadium could host CIF-Southern Section semifinal games, as the increase in seat capacity meets the governing body's seat requirements for those games. CIF soccer and lacrosse competitions could also materialize at the new facility, Clauss said.

Since the current facility's closure in January, the track team has been holding its practices at JSerra Catholic High School and will host track meets at other colleges.

Discussions with Mission Viejo High School are ongoing to host Saddleback football games in the interim.

The new stadium will serve as a recruitment tool, McElroy said, adding that in the past, some student-athletes have instead chosen to attend schools with superior athletic facilities, such as Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.

"That's certainly been a point of contention for incoming recruits," he said. "It won't be anymore."

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March 19, 2018


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