“Let’s gear up.”
I wriggle my fingers into the construction gloves. With a fully-tightened hard hat, fresh neon vest and protective eyewear, we meet the sunlight.
There, in front of us, is a field of construction obscuring our view of the football field beyond. To the side is Vanier Football Complex, the gatehouse to the castle that is Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
We enter the chain-link-fence-enclosed construction area. Once, this was the entrance to the field. The opposing teams used to to park their buses and equipment semitrailers here. Now, it is a field of dirt crossed with the tracks of various construction vehicles. In a week, it will be a field of fresh concrete.
The marching band entered the stadium through here. Now, the concrete is still wet in the tunnel where the Pride of Wildcat Land will line up before run-on.
“Can you imagine Harley Day when they come through here?” Clint Dowdle, chief of staff and associate athletics director for administration, says.
Dowdle is one of our tour guides of K-State Athletic’s Phase IIIB construction for Bill Snyder Family Stadium — the enclosure of the house that Bill built.
Alongside Dowdle is Ryan Lackey, assistant director of athletics communications, and Jeremy Niederwerder, project manager for Mortensen Construction. Mortensen and the GE Johnson Construction Company are the firms managing the construction.
We enter what will become the visiting team locker room. The smell of fresh paint wafts through the air — or is it the aroma of progress?
The price tag on this project is $15 million. Niederwerder says they will be finished in seven months.
“This (project) is aggressive,” Niederwerder says. “A house, a residential place, takes half a year to build. We’re building this multi-million dollar complex in about the same time frame.”
And, Niederwerder says, the project may come in under budget and finish early.
Dowdle says K-State used to have one of the worst visiting team locker rooms in the Big 12 Conference. It was to the point where some equipment staffs complained. Now, K-State’s locker room will be among the best.
“It’s not about having the best visiting team locker room,” Dowdle says. “But it is going to be a more functional space, more efficient and it’s going to provide a good experience for the visiting team.”
Previously, the team and coaches had to share a locker room and showers, Dowdle says. Now, the players will have double the space. And the coaches? They will have their own locker room and four times the space.
There is also a new room for postgame press conferences. In the past, coaches had to step outside to talk to the media.
Around the corner and down a hallway are rooms for the officials. In the old facilities, Dowdle says, the officials’ facilities used to be in the same area as the visiting team facilities.
“That’s not good,” Dowdle says. “You don’t want the coaches running into officials at halftime or during a game.”
Where a door used to be the only barrier between coaches and officials, a concrete masonry unit wall will separate them.
A new female restroom will be added to accommodate a need that has existed for female team trainers.
“From an equitable standpoint, we’ve addressed those issues,” Dowdle says.
Other programs in the conference are also upgrading their visiting teams’ facilities, Lackey says.
The visiting team can take the stairs in the tunnel, or they can take the Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant elevator and ramp.
The facility improvements will help with scheduling opponents.
“This is an attractive venue for teams,” Dowdle says. “To know that they come here, they’re going to be in a good locker room, there’s a good setup for their equipment managers, that helps us attract more opponents to come to play here.”
Above the tunnel where the band will march in is gameday storage space for the band. It will also allow access for band members to go to the restroom. The facility can also serve as a space for Willie the Wildcat to cool off during a hot September Saturday afternoon, Dowdle says.
We walk through the door, and the purple and green turf of Wagner Field glistens under the afternoon sun.
To the left are steps. They are wide enough that two tubas can walk next to each other yet shallow to allow easier maneuvering.
Wider-than-normal aisles bend around the corner, giving band members more space than they used to have. A platform extends in front of the aisles, from where Dowdle says Frank Tracz will direct the band.
The new location will give the band a higher elevation in the stadium and an angle facing the stadium.
“That’s going to be a huge improvement for the band,” Dowdle says. “They’ll be able to project to the entire stadium.”
Dowdle says the gameday atmosphere will improve as a direct result of moving the band.
“An already fantastic atmosphere will become greater,” Dowdle says. “You hear a lot of visiting teams and visiting coaches say this is the loudest place in the Big 12, and it’s going to become louder.”
How much louder?
“You can’t test it until gameday,” Dowdle says, “so we’ll find out on Sept. 17 how much louder it’s going to be.”
Above the band section, the new home of the Pride of Wildcat Land, is the northeast concourse connecting the east and west sides of the stadium.
On top of the concourse, we are standing where no student has stood before. The columns for a new Carl and Mary Ice video board are in place. The board will go up on May 15. With its addition, fans will be able to see one of the three boards from anywhere in the stadium.
ADA-accessible seating will be under the video boards. Behind them, if the stadium is sold out, there will be standing-room-only space. Bill Snyder Family Stadium is on a 27-game sell-out streak.
The concourse structure is complete. Right now, walls are being painted, and ceiling tiles and carpet will go up in two weeks. Mechanical units will be turned on May 23.
“It’s a challenging structure, but the interior finishes are minimal,” Niederwerder says.
June will consist of landscaping and testing with the state. Niederwerder says he is shooting for a July 15 finish date.