February 05, 2016

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) A team of architects and engineers have spent the last two months at Penn State helping formulate a plan that will include a renovation or rebuild of Beaver Stadium.

Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said she expects global architecture firm Populous to present its findings in July. Then the athletic department will begin the second phase of its plan to improve 18 facilities used by the university's 31 athletic programs.

Barbour envisions wider use of the athletic department's biggest revenue-generator, which she said requires sweeping upgrades to the 107,000-seat venue.

''I think that's what we're taking a look at as administrators, the business aspect of what we do - using Beaver Stadium for more than seven Saturdays,'' Barbour told The Associated Press. ''That makes perfectly good sense to me.''

The NHL has inquired about playing at Beaver Stadium, Barbour confirmed. The athletic department also would like to host summer concerts, FIFA events and bring Pennsylvania's high school football championships to the stadium.

''Where Beaver Stadium is today from an infrastructure standpoint, it would be very difficult to do that,'' Barbour said.

Outdated plumbing that requires complete winterization each November, small elevators, narrow concourses and uncomfortable bleacher seating are all obstacles Penn State must first address to make the stadium an attractive option.

Barbour has spent most of her time during home football games shuffling throughout its suites, concourses and press levels. She has a sense for what currently works and what must be improved. She waits for Populous to return results from its structural studies, interviews with university stakeholders - coaches, athletes and faculty members - and design recommendations. Barbour is also awaiting results from a fan survey on how to improve the game-day experience.

She's hosted a handful of town hall talks for fans where the most-asked questions were about potentially replacing the stadium. Barbour has often said she doesn't wish to build a new stadium, although she acknowledges building anew isn't off the table.

''I believe very strongly that renovation is going to fit the bill with a lesser bill and with meeting the needs of what our fans want,'' Barbour said. ''(A new stadium) certainly could (have to be built) because of structural issues, but I doubt it though.''

Phase 2 will also explore funding options for a plan Scott Radecic, the leader of Populous' team, called ''the largest athletic master plan that's been undertaken in collegiate athletics.'' Penn State is also looking to upgrade Rec Hall, where its vaunted wrestling and women's volleyball teams compete, and potentially make improvements to the Bryce Jordan Center in addition to overhauling its tennis and swimming facilities and soccer complex.

Penn State didn't give Populous a budget and Barbour is unwilling to speculate on the costs of the project until Populous presents its findings. She knows it will require a level of philanthropy and Penn State is not unwilling to explore cooperative options for its venues, much like its baseball stadium. Medlar Field at Lubrano Park is owned by Penn State but managed and staffed by the State College Spikes Minor League Baseball team, which uses the stadium from June to early September.

''I think that's been a very successful business model with the Spikes. So we're open to public, private partnership opportunities, whether it's with one of our revenue sports or non-revenue sports,'' Deputy Athletic Director Phil Esten said.

Esten also echoed Barbour that Penn State's campus layout and ownership of largely undeveloped land north and east of the stadium is an asset. It's currently used for game-day parking.

''We actually do have the opportunity. Where at some of these other campuses, you're pretty well stuck with the footprint you have,'' he said. ''So we've got some luxury.''

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