By SUSAN JONES
Last week was a “great week for Pitt, advancing the transformation of the (Oakland) campus,” David DeJong, senior vice chancellor for business and operations, said after the Board of Trustees approved more than $286 million in construction projects on Nov. 10, along with the purchase of a strategically located property.
The largest project — a new Arena and Sports Performance Center in the bowl next to the Petersen Events Center — came as no surprise. It will be the “gateway” to Pitt Athletics’ long-planned Victory Heights development.
Construction will begin on the new $240 million facility in April 2023, with a planned opening in fall 2025. It will be the hub for sports medicine, and the workout area for 16 of Pitt’s 19 sports, most of which are now housed in Fitzgerald Field House. Some of the cost will be offset by fundraising by Pitt Athletics. Some enabling work is already being done at the building site and work to provide utilities to a new chilled water plant on the hill.
Heather Lyke, Pitt’s athletic director, said the archaic field house, which was built in 1951 and has no air conditioning, definitely impacts recruiting. “If you have a business, and your business was built in 1951, and it doesn't have air conditioning, who's coming to your dental office or who’s coming to your doctor's office? … It was not set up for success,” she said at the Nov. 7 Senate Athletics and Recreation committee meeting.
This first step of Victory Heights is designed to get everything out of the field house. “We can't fix it, update it, put another graphic on it. It's old,” she said.
The planned 240,000-square-foot arena and sports performance center will include a competition venue for volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics; spectator facilities; food service; team practice facilities and locker rooms; sports nutrition; a weight room with space dedicated to sports science; and a sports medicine facility. It will provide the first permanent home for Pitt’s 75-member spirit squad.
Lyke said Pitt’s wrestling coach Keith Gavin told her: “When you say you want to be a national champion, and you're going into a 1951 building in the basement of the fieldhouse, it just doesn't match your expectations. So when he talks about Victory Heights, he says this is a facility that says when you want to be a national champion, the facility will match the expectations and really line up.”
The new building “is going to be a game changer,” she said. “It will just transform our campus, I think, in such a positive way.” In addition to all the facilities inside, it also will have a green roof and you will be able to walk out on the ninth floor of the Recreation and Wellness Center now under construction and straight into the sports performance center. On the top level, the building will be on the same level as the upper campus residence halls.
It will be located at the former site of Pitt Stadium, adjacent to the Petersen Events Center. Lyke said the designers asked her if she wanted to keep the size of the arena or do you want to have a grant entrance. She opted for the arena, which meant the entrance will be halfway up the stairs that will run between the new building and the Pete. The front half of the building facing toward lower campus will be the arena, the back half will be the sports performance center.
One of the committee members pointed out the success Pitt’s men’s and women’s soccer teams have had since they got a new facility. This month marks the first time the women’s team have made it to the NCAA tournament. They take on Georgetown at 2 p.m. Nov. 18 in the second round of the tournament. Lyke said success for Pitt’s teams is helped by a combination of the right people (coaches, sports medicine, compliance, development, etc.) and the right facilities.
One lament Lyke still has is finding a home for the track & field and cross country teams. Those teams haven’t had an on-campus track since Pitt Stadium was torn down in 1999. Committee member Katelyn Allison, an associate professor of sports medicine in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said she was recruited to Pitt’s track team in 2002 and told there would be a new track by 2004.
Lyke said a design has already been drawn up for an indoor track where the Pitt Sports Dome is now, and the building also would provide space for the marching band.
“The dome is sensitive to the campus. I recognize that, I really do,” Lyke said, noting that it is a well-used space now for student recreation. “But it needs to be where our indoor track goes. I mean, if we're going to keep track, otherwise should get rid of the six sports and then you drop to 13 sports and then you're not Division I.”
She hopes that the new 300,000 square foot rec center will better meet the student’s recreation needs.
DeJong said all the projects on the hillside — rec center, arena, chilled water plant and landscaped pathway — are “part of our grander plan to transform the hillside into a destination as opposed to a barrier.”
On Nov. 8, the final section of the cooling tower for the new chilled water plant was lifted into place. DeJong said the plant “is integral to that whole effort, allowing us to expand our capacity up there as well as the resiliency of our system, because we will be connecting the upper and lower campus chilled water facilities so that we'll have redundancies built in.”
Other approved projects
In addition to the arena and sports performance center, the Board of Trustees committee also approved:
Cathedral of Learning domestic water system replacement: This $7.3 million project will replace the existing domestic water gravity system with a pumped and pressurized distribution system, including removal of the existing pumped water storage tanks and vertical water risers; installation of new main supply risers feeding upward and vertical distribution piping feeding downward. DeJong said the work will be done in phases starting this December through fall 2024. He said there will be no water loss in the building during the day.
Wiser Institute expansion in Scaife Hall: An additional $2 million was added to the $30 million Scaife Hall Phase 2 improvements to include expanded space for the Wiser Institute, which is dedicated to the advancement of healthcare simulation and education to improve patient safety. The institute currently has space outside of Scaife Hall, but now will be bringing “programming into the school in order to more closely integrate the academic enhancements that it provides straight into the med school curriculum, and also to enhance the curriculum of all six of the Health Sciences schools,” DeJong said.
Litchfield Towers Eatery: Pitt’s largest residential student dining space is getting an upgrade in this $27.5 million project, which will provide 10 unique food venues. The plan is to modernize the full back of house kitchen, storage and dishwashing areas. A new accessibility entrance will be added on Forbes Avenue and the space will be reconfigured to maximize seating.
Conversion of Family House to student housing: The 17,000 square feet of residential space in the University Club that Family House occupied until March 2022 is going to be transformed into 48 dorm rooms with a capacity for 81 students. It also will have a social lounge, laundry room, kitchen and study space. DeJong said this likely will become a living-learning community. The project was approved for $5.1 million.
Acquisition of NexTier Bank property: Pitt plans to acquire the 15,000-square-foot lot at 3455 Forbes Ave. for $6.2 million. It is located near the former Croatian Fraternal Order building that Pitt bought in 2018. DeJong said there are no specific plans for the property right now, but it aligns with Pitt’s real estate strategy. “we want to develop the Fifth-Forbes corridor to be synergistic with activating life sciences research and activity through that corridor, and that's a combination of core academic function and potentially partnerships with third parties and everything in between,” he said.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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