LAWTON — In an effort to keep ahead of the competition in the region and around the country, University of Oklahoma Regents on Wednesday discussed the master plan update of Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
According to OU President David Boren, the study takes a more holistic approach, instead of doing it piece by piece.
“It’s a master plan study of the stadium, so we can look at the whole stadium and try to set up a series of priorities,” Boren said. “We don’t want to just look at little tiny pieces of the stadium by itself. We want to look at the whole stadium. It’s been over 20 years since there has been a master-plan look at the whole stadium.”
The original master plan was developed in 1993. Early projects included the development of the academic center, the Barry Switzer Center, westside suites and turf replacement.
With many athletic programs in the Big 12 and other major conferences already building or renovating their football stadiums, OU athletics director Joe Castiglione said Oklahoma not only wants to make sure they keep Memorial Stadium up to date but also at the forefront.
“It’s comprehensive and proactive,” Castiglione said. “We always want to be considered the type of institution that sets the standard. These facilities that we build or improve are all privately funded.
“So we need to prove to those who are going to support us in this endeavor that these projects are not just be noteworthy but vital to our continued success.”
Schools that have recently built or renovated their stadiums include Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas. Former Big 12 partner Texas A&M has already announced a $450 million project. But Castiglione reminds fans that Oklahoma started it all with its renovations in 2000.
The updated master plan will not just focus on infrastructure but also fan amenities, such as being able to use social media and portable mobile devices in the stadium.
“We get it,” Castiglione said. “We certainly understand how fans are wanting to consume sports in today’s world. We understand how good the television has become. We understand how big it continues to get.
“We understand the involvement of technology and the way fans are using multiple screens now to enjoy a sporting experience. But the one thing technology can’t replicate is what it’s like to be in a stadium on gameday.”
A market study will be done to find out what fans want. The university did a study in 1999. However, unlike then, officials now know they are now competing for entertainment dollars with entities like the Oklahoma City Thunder, which wasn’t around 13 years ago.
“This is a chance for us to continue to take care of one of the unique cathedrals of college football,” Castiglione said. “We are very mindful of the immense tradition that has been created in that stadium since it was built. We are always looking for ways to provide state-of-the-art facilities. This is really an effort to follow our standard approach of being proactive.”
There is no timetable in place for the study to be completed or for renovations to occur. Officials plan to take their time because they want the finished project to be lasting.
“Everything will be looked at,” Castiglione said. “In roughly 10 years, we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. We are trying to be constantly looking at what’s best for the University of Oklahoma for our student athletes and our fans.
“It goes back to where we need to be. We know where people are right now. We are going to be looking forward to where this university needs to be.”
In other action: Regents voted to install new bleachers in the McCasland Field House. The refurbished seats will allow 100 more fans to attend athletic events hosted there. It won’t take place until after the spring.
The regents also voted to renew health and dental contracts for university employees at a 9 percent increase.
“It is a higher than usual increase in one year for two reasons,” Boren said. “One is the changes in health care at the federal level. That probably counts for about a third of it. The other two-thirds this year, by chance, we had a far larger number of our employees who had serious health problems. Therefore, more costly care. That causes your insurance to go up.”
On the Health and Science Center front, Boren recommended the approval of the professional service agreements for Variety Care Inc., University Hospital Trust and HCA Health Services of Oklahoma Inc. The board voted “yes.”
The regents also agreed to the expansion of the Tulsa School of Community Medicine M.D. program track at the College of Medicine. It will go from its current two-year program to a four-year program on the Tulsa campus.