Brandon Short, a Penn State trustee and former football player, enthusiastically voted Thursday to recommend a $48.3 million renovation of the Lasch Football Building.
In fact, Short said that Penn State should go further.
"The question isn’t whether we should do this project or should we do it now," Short said. "My question is, why aren’t we investing more?"
Penn State's Board of Trustees will vote Friday on funding the Lasch Football Building project, the first phase of a $69 million renovation plan that the board approved in 2019. The Committee on Finance, Business and Capital Planning voted 10-1 on Thursday to recommend the proposal to the full board. The board meeting begins at 1 p.m. and can be viewed at WPSU.org/trustees.
Short, a committee member and All-American linebacker at Penn State in the 1990s, made a passionate case for the renovations, which Penn State said would be financed through donations and a loan. Short said Penn State would fall behind other college football programs if the renovations were delayed or not undertaken.
"There's no other place where we can get a higher return on our investment than investing in our football program," Short said during the public portion of the committee meeting. "It aligns with our core mission, enlists the entire university. This investment increases student applications, allows us to maintain or increase our academic standards due to demand outpacing supply. It helps recruit talented faculty and staff. It increases giving across the university and it enhances the local economy.
"Investments in football at Penn State have a broad, positive effect across the university."
Penn State's board in 2019 approved the $69 million project and architect HOK of Philadelphia, which was scheduled to submit plans to the board last September. The COVID-19 pandemic and altered 2020 football schedule delayed that delivery to this month.
Athletics Director Sandy Barbour told the board that further delays would incur cost increases of 3-5 percent. She also said that delays would impact not only the experience of current players but also recruiting.
Phase I of the renovation includes an 18,000-square-foot weight room expansion and a new, 7,400-square-foot lobby entrance. Those plans would extend the Lasch Building's footprint into the parking lot in front of the Holuba Hall indoor facility.
The renovations also include improvements to the Lasch Building's training and sports medicine facilities. Further, a new suite will house the "5th Quarter Program" designed to help players with their transition from high school to college and beyond.
The Lasch Football Building opened in 1999 but did not undergo any major investments, renovations or upgrades until 2015, Barbour said. Under head coach James Franklin, the football facilities have received $36.7 million in improvements.
When this $69 million project is completed, football upgrades would top $105 million in about 10 years.
"This next phase of those renovations will continue to provide our student-athletes with the resources needed to compete at the highest level on and off the field," Franklin said in a statement. "The addition of the student-athlete development suite for our 5th Quarter Program will provide a world-class facility to prepare our guys as they transition to Penn State and prepare them for life beyond football. We will continue to fundraise to make this and future projects a reality."
Trustee Anthony Lubrano voted no on the recommendation, citing uncertainty with Penn State's future football schedule. He also warned of a "fool's errand" by getting into a facilities-spending arms race "that we can't win."
"I think the timing for this is wrong, given all the unknowns we have, especially this upcoming season," Lubrano said. "... Are we going to be able to play in front of 100,000 people [at Beaver Stadium]? There are just a lot of questions."
Responded Short, "If we continue to delay, we'll be left behind."
In her presentation, Barbour peer-reviewed Penn State to several programs investing in football facilities. Auburn has proposed a $91.9 million football center. Florida is building an $85 million football training center. In 2019, Nebraska announced a $155 million athletic complex that will be linked to Memorial Stadium.
Underscoring Barbour's comments, Short recounted his time as a nationally ranked high school recruit being courted by Bobby Bowden, Lou Holtz and "a young Nick Saban" in addition to Joe Paterno. Short said Penn State's tradition and academic reputation certainly impacted his decision, but "a big reason" he chose the program was its facilities.
"Holuba Hall [which opened in 1987] was cutting edge," said Short, the director of mergers & acquisitions at Round Hill Capital. "Not many people in the country had an indoor facility. ... By the time I left, we had the Lasch Building, which made us one of the top football facilities in the country.
"If Penn State had not made that investment, I would not be a member of this board, because I would not have to come to Penn State. We need to invest in this project, and do much more."
Get the latest Penn State news by joining the community. Click "Follow" at the top right of our AllPennState page. Mobile users click the notification bell. And please follow AllPennState on Twitter @MarkWogenrich.