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Fixing old stadium a waste of money, fundraising co-chair believes

May 7, 2013

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

An engineer’s report that last week declared the upper stands at Richardson Stadium unsafe may eventually be seen as fortuitous, says a man who played football there during its first season more than 40 years ago. 

“It’s a blessing that it was discovered now rather than having someone hurt,” Paul Hand said, “and hopefully it will light a fire under some of our associates within the university and the alumni community and we can get on with the real project, which is funding a new complex.”

Hand, who played for the Queen’s Golden Gaels 1969-72, is co-chair, with his wife, Vicki, of a university subcommittee responsible for raising money for outdoor athletic fields and a new stadium.

At the moment, the university is working to overcome a drop in stadium capacity from just over 10,000 to 3,700 spectators and still be suitable for an international rugby match June 8 and Homecoming football games in October. It’s unlikely, Hand said, that any amount of money would be spent to remediate the existing structure.

“There’s no point in putting money into that thing,” he said. “That’s five million bucks when you need a new complex.

“We had talked about remediation a few years ago when we had to do a little (work) on the upper left of the alumni side and came to the conclusion that it would be a bad use of funds to spend a lot of money on that when it really had outlived its purpose.”

Hand said the need for a new stadium is obvious.

“Anecdotal evidence would suggest that the lower stands are built of the same material (as the condemned upper stands),” he said. “I don’t know about the alumni side but on the student side, that steel came from the old Richardson Stadium, which was built in the late ’20s and it was leftover steel from the First World War. That steel is approaching 100 years old.

“Remember, that (stadium) was built to be a temporary facility. Including the field, the drainage, nothing was done for permanancy. It’s done pretty well for 40 years old.”

At the time remediation was dismissed as an alternative, Hand said those involved in the conversation were optimistic that a “lead donor” would come forward to ignite the fundraising campaign for a new stadium, but the financial crisis of 2008-09 “put a crimp in everything.” Meanwhile, the university was at the height of the Queen’s Centre fiasco. More than $100 million still remains to be paid on the mortgage of the new athletic facility on main campus, which was over budget almost from the time the first shovel of dirt came out of the ground.

“That has been a giant elephant in the room about all projects,” Hand said. “If they’re not funded, the university has not been prepared to proceed. Being Scottish Presbyterians by heritage, the appetite for debt at the university is pretty low. It’s sort of like a line in the sand for any project.”

The focus of the university’s current $500 million fundraising campaign — which has already marshalled about $300 in alumni giving — was to be less on capital projects and more on endowing scholarships and teaching chairs. Now that Homecoming is again an autumn event — and the football game is the focal element of the annual reunion — Hand hopes there may be added impetus to move forward with building a new stadium.

“It’s your major connection event with alumni in many ways,” he said. “One year people will put up with it but if people come back the third and fourth year and there are still temporary stands, with the old ones sitting there empty, or torn down, that (won’t be acceptable).”

Though the university has known for some time that the stadium needed to be replaced — and therefore did very little in the way of upkeep — there has been money for improvements to other outdoor athletic facilities. Artificial turf was installed at a new practice field on west campus and also at Kingston (now Nixon) Field and Tindall Field on main campus.

The centrepiece of the plan for outdoor athletic facilities has always been a new stadium for the football team, but Hand said it shouldn’t be considered strange that the ancillary projects were completed first.

“We didn’t have enough money to proceed on the stadium,” Hand said, “and to hold up the other initiatives pending that leads to the second (reason) — the need was great. You can’t keep using a natural grass field for (so many activities). It just became untenable.”

Hand suspects what he calls the stadium complex —stands, field and field house — would cost about $20 million. The whole infrastructure at west campus, including roadways and parking lots, would have to be redesigned as well to accommodate not just a stadium, but future practice fields that will have to be built.

“Everything cries out for it,” he said. “There’s lots of need and the local community has lots of need. There’s ice time in Kingston but not a lot of decent fields.

“The silver lining is this should bring to the attention of people the priority of what we need.”

Hand said the university has been making good progress with its capital projects.

“The business school has its new wing, the Tett Centre that the Baders have funded is going to be a magnificent building, the medical guys have their new building. You look around and the only other major priority is they need an omnibus engineering building built behind Dupuis Hall. Clearly outdoor athletic remediation remains one of the top two or three priorities around the campus.

“We’re optimistic that something’s going to come forward. We’re on hold but we’ve been working behind the scenes on a few people and we like to think we’re making some progress but (securing) major donations … takes time.

“We’ve got a few irons in the fire but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”

 

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One Comment
  1. John Mac permalink

    That a “National” brand such as Queen’s would allow this to happen remains a mystery to all…

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