By Katelyn Higgins, John Horlander, and Sierra Mayhew
To most, Notre Dame Stadium is a destination 6 days a year. However, with the creation of the Campus Crossroads project, Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick sought out to make it a destination 365 days a year.
In January 2014, shortly after Notre Dame concluded the 2013 football season, the University announced the largest construction and development project in the school’s history.
The Campus Crossroads Project is precisely that: a “crossroads” of academics, student life, and athletics. At the outset of the project, the projected cost was $400 million, and over three years into the massive task that number has not wavered, school officials say. There are multiple facets to Campus Crossroads: the improvements to the football stadium and fan experience, a new student center and restaurants, new academic offices and classrooms, and more. Check out a before and after comparison here.
All aspects related to the football experience will be finished before the Irish kick off against Temple on Sept. 2. The student center and academic buildings will be completed before the start of the 2018 spring semester.
Doug Marsh, the University’s architect and vice president for facilities design and operations said of the project, “Student life, athletics and academics in one building. It’s never been done before.”
Marsh took media on a tour of the Duncan Student Center, the addition on the west side of the stadium. Duncan will have three new eateries, Star Ginger Asian Grill and Noodle Bar, Modern Market and a coffee house featuring Intelligentsia coffee.
The first two floors will also have a student lounge, administrative offices and meeting rooms. The third and fourth floors will have a brand new student recreational facility, which will replace Rolfs Sports Recreation Center upon completion. Rolfs will be completely renovated and become a state-of-the-art practice facility for the Fighting Irish basketball teams.
Additional basketball courts will also be put in the north dome of the Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center, and they will open alongside the opening of the Duncan Student Center. The student rec center will feature a three-floor rock climbing wall, running/walking track, basketball court, and brand new exercise equipment.
The fifth level will be the new home to the career center, complete with interview rooms, offices, and more; the sixth floor is mechanical support. Floors 1-6 will be completed by spring 2018. On the seventh floor is a 500-seat ballroom, club seating, and more. The eighth and ninth floors also cater to premium customers.
The Duncan Student Center, located just a few yards east of the most-frequented classroom building on campus, Debartolo Hall, will offer close, easy access to students when it opens in January 2018. According to Senior Deputy Director of Athletics Missy Conboy, the vision for Duncan is for it to become a central spot on campus for students.
When the project was first announced, most believed the enhancements to the stadium were solely to offer premium seating to donors and high-paying guests. However, Conboy said that is not the case. When the project was approved, Conboy said the school conducted a feasibility study on campus to see how the project would affect each part of campus, from the students and faculty to the typical Notre Dame Football fan.
One of the initiatives to come from the feasibility study was the idea to put Rolf’s Rec Center into the Duncan student center.
“We were in the midst of planning to build a complex for men’s and women’s basketball programs when we thought what if we relocate Rolf’s, which doesn’t have all that it needs now, to the same space as the student center so students can now have almost everything in the same location”, Conboy said.
Next, they developed plans to enhance the stadium to attract fans away from watching the game from home or at a sports bar. This meant the addition of premium space in the form of skyboxes and other premium seating. What many do not realize was the focus to improve the stadium for the “average Joe” fan.
Conboy said more than a year and a half into the project they realized they had to add updates for the average fan as well.
“We couldn’t open the gates this fall after three years of construction and have fans feel like they were still getting the same thing”, said Conboy.
This meant the majority of the stadium was to get a much-needed facelift which included replacing the infamous wood bleachers for new metal covered bleachers. The concourse updates include new paint and signage, renovating the bathrooms and concessions stands and the addition of over 200 TV monitors so fans can see the game while in the concourse.
Conboy stressed the importance of maintaining the integrity of existing stadium. The project repurposed over 90% of the wood bleachers, searched extensively to find brick to match the original bricking and will even hand paint bricks near the gates to match the originals.
She referenced the innovation that Knute Rockne possessed when he built a stadium in the 1920s that held 60,000 people. It was important to continue the innovation with the Campus Crossroads project, she said.
With the stadium known as the “house that Rockne built”, undergoing so many changes, some critics have said it hurts the traditions that make the stadium great. Conboy disagreed.
“If Rockne were around today, he would have done the same thing because he was a great innovator,” she said.
Martyrs or graduates?
Seniors had many negative opinions on the project have different and personal reasons for their resentment. They responded to a Google Questionnaire rating their feelings from 1-10 on the Campus Crossroads project. They rated their excitement towards the project as 4.4. They took offense to the project in a different way than underclassmen students.
For most seniors, campus crossroads is not something that is viewed with a positive eye. From the moment that they walked on campus to the day they walk across the stage to accept their degree, they have had to deal with the construction eyesore.
Senior Rachel Dupont, an anthropology major, felt strongly about the project. “I’m really happy that the anthropology department is getting a new place but I do feel like a martyr because I am missing out on a lot of things.”
The excitement about the project that the university has been using to increase morale on campus has been hurting seniors more than helping them.
A point of view from the field
Morale has been low after a 4-8 record season for the Notre Dame football team. But one player thinks this project can help turn things around.
The introduction to an improved stadium can really affect the definition of the term “home field advantage.” Ashton White, a safety entering his second year with the football team, stresses the importance of the stadium.
“It has an effect on wins and losses in the sense that we have a feeling of confidence and comfort that comes from being at home, playing in our stadium and in front of our fans.”
Coming out of a rough season for Notre Dame football, morale is low. These additions have the potential ability to boost the confidence of the fans and the team. Bringing in an improved locker room and stadium atmosphere is exactly what the school needs.
As White explains the excitement that the players have in relation to their experience in the new stadium, it becomes clear that this project has the ability to improve the game of football for not only the viewers but also the men on the field.
Doug Marsh speaks of the project with a great view towards the future of campus. He refers to the future of the renovations as “200 years from now.” While that seems so far away, it is closer than it seems; these buildings will still be standing then.
A Google survey conducted of 112 students on April 20, 2017 gathered information on the perspective of students on the Campus Crossroads project.
On a scale of 1 to 10 surveying their level of anticipation and excitement towards the project, the students averaged at a neutral 5.0.
Seniors averaged at 4.4, Juniors at 4.8, Sophomores averaged at 5.4, Freshman at 6.5. The numbers increase with age due to the fact that the younger students will be experiencing the positive aspect of these changes the longest.
The students were also granted the opportunity to answer which aspect of the project to which they were most looking forward. The food was the aspect of the project that interested the students the most. 46% of the respondents mentioned food both positively and negatively in their responses. Some mentioned excitement that healthy options would be offered while others had expected a Chick Fil A or fast food option.
The food is not the only thing that students are looking forward to. The students voiced excitement over all of the aspects of the renovations including the athletics, student life and academic portion in their responses.