While the campus expansion in recent times may have caused a mild case of disorientation in those returning for an occasional football game or reunion, the next wave of construction projects may prove even more dizzying to those who stay away too long.
The campus transformation, presenting a steady dose of building sites to those who live and work at Notre Dame (and for whom pathways and parking are important), is the outward sign of a university keeping pace with its ambitions. That pursuit continues.
Digging began in March for underground utility systems and infrastructure to support the newest projects. These include a pair of new buildings to house sociology, political science and international affairs, as well as a new home for the School of Architecture and two additional residence halls. A major research complex is also envisioned.
But the dominant feature among the coming attractions is the largest building project in Notre Dame’s history — a $400 million augmentation of Notre Dame Stadium known as the Campus Crossroads Project.
Plans call for the construction of three buildings, totaling 750,000 square feet, attached to the stadium.
The nine-story west building is designed for student life services and will include space for student organizations, a two-level recreation center and a career center with offices, lounges, training rooms and 40 interview rooms. The upper three floors will offer club and premium seating for football games, booths for NBC Sports telecasts and a 500-seat ballroom.
The nine-story east building is dedicated to the anthropology and psychology departments as well as a digital media center with studio and production facilities to enhance Notre Dame’s efforts in this burgeoning component of higher education. The three upper levels provide for club and premium seating for football games and the stadium’s working press box.
The six-story south building will provide welcome space — not far from the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center — for the Department of Music and University programs in sacred music. The facility will include recital and rehearsal halls, practice rooms, a music library and 350-person club/lounge.
Construction is to begin in two years, perhaps sooner, and is expected to take about 33 months to complete. Even though the stadium will become something of a construction zone — and probably present some inconveniences — home games will be played as scheduled.
The adjoining structures and addition of 3,000 to 4,000 premium seats will have little effect on the existing stadium seating, but spectators should expect enhanced broadband connectivity and upgraded cellular and WiFi service. Answers to questions about field turf and a stadium video board were left indefinite when the project was announced in late January, although it was affirmed that no commercial signage or advertising would be allowed in the stadium.
In announcing the Crossroads Project, University president Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC, ’76, ‘78M.A. said, “One of Notre Dame’s greatest assets has been the boldness of its vision — the ability to see possibilities and connections where others saw only obstacles and fragmentation. This project continues the boldness of that vision.”
As with any such bold or dramatic venture, the Crossroads Project is not without voices of disapproval — those who find the price tag extravagant or who question academic enterprises being attached to football or who object to the idea of premium seating or altering the stadium’s aesthetic. A few infer signs of institutional misdirection.
But the project arose from a feasibility study launched last spring to examine the use of the stadium — centrally located but used only 10 or 12 times a year. As a consequence, 84 faculty and staff, serving on an oversight committee or in eight working groups, devoted more than 3,000 hours to determine how the stadium might become a year-round hub for academic and student life. Outside experts in technology, architecture, engineering, student life and food services provided guidance.
One important consideration, for example, was finding a place for a new student center — something that had been desired for more than a decade — but conveniently accessed by students across campus. Another was providing needed space for several rapidly improving academic departments — while not contributing to the ever-widening campus footprint. The concrete-covered spaces around the stadium offered prime real estate.
There was also the goal of integrating student and academic life, an important element of a Notre Dame education, especially now as technological advances, societal trends and global developments challenge old educational models.
“At a time when some are questioning the future of the residential college campus,” Father Jenkins explained when announcing the plans, “we believe the investment in these new facilities, which will house new research and teaching venues, several academic departments, a much-expanded student center, a digital media center and a variety of hospitality and programming spaces, will greatly enhance the campus experience.”
The Crossroads Project, to be underwritten through benefactions and bonds, will be an enormous undertaking, employing a major workforce and changing the campus landscape. It is intended to improve the game-day experience for fans, integrate various elements of college life and elevate top-quality academic programs. But it is also a statement, a major declaration of identity and vision for a university with significant aspirations.
Institutional observers, those accustomed to a campus in a state of perpetual transition, will continue to watch and speculate on the domino effect — on the future of Bond Hall and other vacated spaces, on Rolfs going to the men’s and women’s varsity basketball teams when the new student rec center is done, on parking lots getting exponentially more distant and other side stories of a restless university on the move.
Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine.