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COLUMBUS — As Ohio Stadium nears its 100th birthday, what would be the dream money-is-no-object gift for the aging landmark?
A third deck? A retractable roof? Enclosing the south end?
No, no, and heck no.
"We don’t have anything huge [planned]," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "It’s such a beautiful, historic structure, and we have to be very careful with what we do."
Ohio State decided another touch up wouldn’t hurt, though.
With spring practice over, the Ohio State football team’s 93-year-old stadium and its practice facility is set to become a construction zone.
Ohio Stadium next season will feature $13.7 million worth of upgrades, including an additional 2,600 new seats in the south end zone, four banks of permanent lights, and a new turf field. The school also recently announced a nearly $4 million renovation to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, headlined by a redesigned 10,000 square-foot locker room replete with a water wall intended to dazzle recruits.
The increased seating will allow for crowds of more than 108,000 at the Horseshoe.
The moves represent Ohio State’s latest entry in a mounting college football arms race.
Look across the Big Ten, where a building boom is modernizing the nation’s richest conference. Michigan completed a $226 million stadium expansion in 2010 and a $9 million upgrade to Schembechler Hall last month; Iowa spent $55 million on a new football practice complex, and Northwestern is building a $220 million lakefront athletics complex that Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald told the Chicago Tribune will be a "game-changer."
Now, Ohio State is adding on to a stadium it spent $194 million to expand in 2001 and making over its practice facility for the third time in eight years. OSU completed a $19.5 million renovation in 2007 and received a $5 million gift from Delta natives Jole and Jim Harmon in 2010 to build an outdoor practice complex that includes four fields — two natural grass, two artificial turf — with permanent lights.
"Budgeting through the general athletics fund as well as gifts from our donors has enabled us to keep the majority of our facilities, regardless of age, among the best in college athletics," said OSU associate director of athletic facilities Don Patko, who also oversaw the construction of a $19 million practice complex for the basketball team among other recent projects.
Smith said Ohio State’s next major capital projects mostly involve the non-revenue sports, including a $25 million arena he compared to the 4,700-seat Stroh Center at Bowling Green State University. Covelli Arena will host the wrestling, volleyball, and gymnastics programs and be built on the corner of Ackerman Road and Fred Taylor Drive — about a mile away from the teams’ current home at St. John Arena. (The future of St. John Arena remains uncertain.)
The groundbreaking date for the 4,000-seat arena remains to be announced. Smith said the school has so far raised $16 million.