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Fans can enjoy a beer in the stands at Gaels football games this fall

July 31, 2013

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

For the first time in the history of Richardson Stadium, patrons will be able to imbibe — legally — in the stands at Queen’s Golden Gaels football games this fall.

That’s one of the tangible fallouts from the discovery this spring that most of the permanent seating at the university’s stadium was structurally compromised and subsequently condemned as unsafe.

To overcome the loss of seating for about 6,300 patrons, temporary bleachers are being installed at the west campus site and at a news conference yesterday to discuss the work, athletics director Leslie Dal Cin revealed that stands being built on the track at the north end of the stadium will be licensed for the sale of alcohol.

“It creates new opportunities for us to try things that I think are going to be important as we go forward with our plans for a permanent stadium,” she said of the work necessitated by the sudden loss in May of about 63 per cent of the stadium’s capacity.

“We’ve heard for a number of years from our non-student fans who would like to be able to come to the game, sit and have a beer in the stands. Now we can actually facilitate that and test it out.”

University officials said Wednesday the work is on schedule to be completed by mid-August. Portable stands are being built on the east — i.e., student — side of the stadium, where the upper tier of seating has been demolished. New stands are being constructed on the running track at both ends of the field.

“We think it’s going to be fabulous for our football program, in terms of proximity of the crowd to our athletes and the energy that’s going to flow back and forth between those two elements,” Dal Cin said.

“Once we get our game day elements in here, the whole environment is going to change,” she continued. “It’s going to be much more intimate, much more energy-filled. As a result of a bad situation we’ve ended up in a very positive place.”

It’s long been known that the stadium — built in 1971 as a temporary facility — was nearing the end of its useful life but the news that all but 3,700 seats of the 10,000-seat facility were being condemned was jarring, especially for those connected with the major tenant, the Golden Gaels football team.

The project to build the 10-row sections of aluminum and galvanized steel bleachers — seating for about 4,800, in all — is costing about $700,000, including some associated landscaping and fencing.

Brian Makosky, project manager for Physical Plant Services, said the field level stands will provide “some of the best seats in the house.”

Dal Cin agreed.

“The idea of a bowl configuration is something that we really like,” she said, “to give the crowd the opportunity to influence what the kicker of the other team is doing, to create the opportunity for our kids to go in and celebrate with fans.

“We think that allowing our fans to come closer to the field is going to create a much more interactive experience between the game and our athletes.”

John Witjes, director of engineering and operation for Physical Plant Services at Queen’s, said the problems with the underpinnings of the stands — much of which was steel dating to the 1920s at the original Richardson Stadium — was discovered during an inspection conducted in the spring.

The examination came on the final year of a report the university received in 2008 that outlined a five-year plan to keep the aging facility viable.

“As we approached the final year of the five-year plan we decided we wanted a more in-depth investigation,” Witjes said. “The original look was more of a visual inspection by the structural engineer. This was more physical. We were actually cutting sections and looking at the thickness of the pipes and that sort of thing.”

It’s not necessarily the case that the structure had deteriorated more than the authors of the 2008 report anticipated, Witjes said.

“This was more of an in-depth analysis. We didn’t really do that five years ago.”

Though people spoke Wednesday of a “new stadium” and the implication throughout was of its inevitability, there remains no timeline for the start of construction.

“Tomorrow,” Dal Cin said, wishfully, but it’s not that simple, Judith Brown said.

The associate vice-principal in charge of alumni relations in the advancement office at Queen’s, Brown said a $33 million project to rehabilitate athletic fields and build a new stadium is “one of the projects that features prominently within the philanthropic engine” of the university’s Initiative Campaign to raise half a billion dollars by 2016.

To date, $8 million has been raised specifically for that purpose, including the money that was used to create Nixon Field, an artifical-turf rugby field on main campus last year.

The suddenly revealed state of Richardson Stadium, Brown said, hasn’t added any urgency to the need to build a new one.

“It’s always been a priority,” she said. “We’ve known for a long time that revitalizing fields and the stadium was going to be an important part of our program. You think about excellence meeting opportunity. Excellent students need this kind of opportunity. If you look around the stadium at the kind of transformative change that needs to happen here, it can only be accomplished through philanthropy.

“What’s happened does not make it more important than it was. The conversation has been ongoing. This is something that arose but the importance of the initiative and the commitment to the initiative long predates what has happened with the stands.”

Brown said she couldn’t predict how soon work could start on a new stadium, which is also home to the varsity men’s and women’s soccer teams. Neither could Dal Cin.

“We are going to be dependent on our fundraising ability,” Dal Cin said. “That’s our mission and that’s what we’re working on. As you know, we have a dedicated and loyal group of football alumni who share a vision about a new stadium.

“We’re optimistic.”

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