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A Football Stadium That Seats 30,500? An Engineering Senior Design Class Shows How

A senior design class at Old Dominion University's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology gave its end-of-semester presentation Tuesday, April 27, outlining the students' plans to increase the seating capacity of Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium.

And the presentation - in the Scholarship Lounge overlooking the football field - attracted a pretty prestigious audience, including senior officials from ODU Athletics, and Steve Ballard. It was Ballard's company that renovated the stadium for the Monarchs' re-entry into collegiate football in 2009.

"Fourteen weeks ago, when this project was started, we didn't have a clue where it would go. Now, we have a feasibility study of expansion, including the cost estimate," said David Basco, professor of civil engineering at ODU.

The student plan, with an estimated price tag of $45.1 million, would see the stadium's capacity expanded by more than 10,000, to 30,516 seats. It also includes a timeline, projecting completion of the construction project by 2013 without disrupting seating for any of the next three football seasons.

ODU finished third in the entire country in Football Championship Subdivision attendance for 2009, at almost 140,000 fans for the season, but home games were sold out before the season started, leaving many other fans without tickets.

An expanded stadium would solve that problem, as well as push ODU even higher in the attendance rankings.

"With 30,000 seats, times seven home games, we'd lead the country in attendance by a mile," Basco said.

One at a time, the 15 students in the class ran through the engineering demands, code compliance, environmental concerns and cost estimate for the expansion. Some of their ideas were broad in scope, including squaring off the historic "clam shell" stadium on either side of the field, and adding 12 luxury boxes to each sideline.

But other suggested changes were more modest, even innovative, such as putting pop-up bleachers on top of the parking garage where ticketless fans stand to see football games for free, and adding a rainwater collection system to provide water for the stadium's bathrooms.

Ryan Hill, the student leader of the senior design project, said it was easy for the team to get excited about this endeavor.

"Dr. Basco came up with the original idea to do a football-type project. From the second we started thinking about stadium and football expansion, it was on fire, being able to tap into the energy around the football team," said Hill, an Air Force officer from Lancaster, Mass., who majored in civil engineering.

Hill said there was extra incentive for the team, knowing who was going to hear the presentation.

"If this was just a thing we were going to present amongst the class, it probably wouldn't have weighed on us as much," he said. "But knowing we were going to present this to S.B. Ballard, knowing that ODU Athletics was going to be here, really gave us the drive to make this as realistic as possible."

Associate Athletic Director Bruce Stewart attended the presentation, along with other officials from ODU Athletics. He came away impressed.

"It was well done. They're bright, they have good ideas and they obviously express them well," Stewart said. "I wouldn't expect anything less from ODU students."

Stewart liked a number of the ideas put forward by the students, including the plan to catch rainwater that flows off the harder surfaces of the stadium for use in the facility's toilets. "I thought that was fantastic," Stewart said of the idea, which the students claim can be done for a modest price.

Stewart had communicated with leaders of the senior design group as they embarked on the project. He encouraged them to be creative and aim high with their plan. "As an institution, we're never satisfied to rest on the past. We're looking for ways to get better, wherever we can find them," he said.

But Stewart cautioned that the expansion ideas the students proposed are just that at this point - ideas. "From a professional standpoint, we'll take that information and move forward very cautiously."

Hill said his group would love to see one or more of its ideas incorporated in future stadium plans, and referenced another senior design project by ODU civil engineering students in the 1990s. That study looked at the possibility of building a minor league baseball stadium in downtown Norfolk.

"You know where they sited it? It was right there (where the current stadium ended up being constructed). In fact, the field is positioned very similar to where they set it up in their feasibility study. So you never know," Hill said.

This article was posted on: April 28, 2010

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