Renovation and rebirth


It has been the site of countless classic games, it has hosted presidents, and it has certainly experienced its fair share of biting November breezes blowing off Lake Washington. But on Saturday night, the majestic old lady of Montlake will host her final ball.

The Husky Stadium known by its denizens for the last 91 years will cease to exist Monday. That is when the stadium’s $250-million renovation is scheduled to begin, just two days after the final football game, against Oregon, will be played in the stadium’s current configuration.

The plans for changes are ambitious and significant, both aesthetically and in terms of the game-day experience. Perhaps primarily, the track that currently surrounds the field will be removed, and the field itself will be lowered 4 feet and moved 7 feet to the north. With the track removed, the stands will be moved much closer to the field. (A purple line is currently painted on the track to show the stands’ future location.)

The entire lower bowl will be excavated and reconstructed. The Don James Center will be rebuilt, and a litany of new football facilities will be added to the stadium complex.

But perhaps the most significant change for UW students is that the Dawg Pack will move from its current location. For decades, the student section has comprised the prime seats in Husky Stadium: on the north sideline, extending about 40 yards from midfield in either direction.

Starting in 2013, the date of the stadium’s planned reopening, the student section will be relocated to the west end-zone. This was met with no small amount of vitriol, particularly from the student body itself, a fact recognized by the UW. In a January press release, though, the UW said the move was a financial necessity.

“Without a move of the student section, the renovation is simply not possible from a financial standpoint,” the release stated.

The prime seats that were previously part of the student section will now be available for purchase to the general public.

Tyler Boyd, a 2009 UW alumnus, said that while the change is unfortunate for the students, he understands its necessity in the eyes of the UW.

“It sucks for the students, obviously,” he said. “But you look at some of the big-time universities, the big-time football programs especially, and that’s just not where the students sit. We were fortunate to have the seats where they are for so long, and I think that’s a great thing. But to move forward, we got to make a move. If people are willing to pay the dollar value for what the seats are really worth, you got to let them do that.”

While the move of the student section is undoubtedly the correct one financially, there are real worries about possible negative impacts on game day. The students are almost always the loudest fans at the game. Moving that noise away from the center of the field and the volume-enhancing metal overhang that comes with it could be a potential detriment to confusing opposing offenses.

But Kyle Benn, an offensive lineman for the Huskies from 1998-2001, doesn’t see it that way.

“Where the student section is now, I always loved, more [for] the fact that a lot of our friends and peers were looking down right on us. [But] I’m really excited they’re moving the student section there (to the west end-zone) without the track. You put that in the end zone with nowhere for the players to escape, the sound to escape, the opposing team driving down to the closed end — I’m really excited to see that.”

Of course, the Huskies will need a new place to play while the renovations are occurring. For the 2012 season, that place will be CenturyLink Field in downtown Seattle, currently the home of the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders FC. The UW has been largely silent on how the logistics of playing games at CenturyLink will work, causing some concern for fans like Boyd.

“We’ll have tickets for sure, but we have no idea what we’ll do for tailgating,” he said. “The university will typically keep you informed as to how they’ll go about doing that kind of thing. … They haven’t really done anything like that for CenturyLink yet, so I’m not sure what to expect. Until they do, I have no idea.”

There are a lot of unknowns about how the renovation process will unfold. But a few things are certain: The seats will all be shiny and new, the track will be gone, and the students will be in the end zone. Many of the idiosyncrasies and quirks of the stadium that have accumulated over 91 years — and that made Husky Stadium such a special venue — will be gone. But when the Huskies come running out of the tunnel on Sept. 7, 2013, in front of a packed house under a warm Seattle sun, the crowd will cheer, the siren will sound, and a game of football will unfold.

Some things never change.

Reach reporter Kevin Dowd at sports@dailyuw.com or on Twitter @kevindowd.

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