Washington opens its 2013 season against Boise State on Saturday night, and it will be the inaugural game in newly reconstructed Husky Stadium. University officials gave Puget Sound-area media folks a walk-through on Wednesday and the new stadium, which will seat 70,138 spectators, is remarkable in every way.
The scenic setting along Lake Washington is unchanged, of course, and the exterior profile is similar in many ways to the old stadium. But inside virtually everything is different -- and better.
"This project is obviously going to have a great impact on the fan experience," UW athletic director Scott Woodward said. "And it's going to have a great impact on our football program because that's what this is about."
In terms of football facilities, Washington had lagged in recent years compared to rivals in the Pacific-12 Conference and elsewhere in college football. But with the re-opening of Husky Stadium, Woodward said, "we can compete with anyone now, and I'm very comfortable saying that. This is as good as it gets."
On game days fans will enjoy many of the new stadium's amenities and conveniences. But the players and coaches will benefit the rest of the week during the season, and then throughout the long offseason.
The west end of the stadium houses the new football operations complex. Below the stands is a spacious new locker room -- shaped in a W, no less -- a vast weight room, multiple meeting rooms and extensive training rooms, including three hydrotherapy tubs. There is even a barbershop. All of those amenities are dedicated solely to football.
Above the west end zone seats is a large row of dark windows, and those are the coaches' offices. Head coach Steve Sarkisian has the biggest office, of course, and even has a fireplace.
Nearby there is a posh recruiting lounge to entertain and entice prospective student-athletes.
"With the investment we've made into Husky football and into this great facility, it puts us on a par with anybody in the BCS (Bowl Championship Series, the top level of NCAA football)," Woodward said. "From a facilities standpoint, I think we can compete.
"We still have a lot of work to do as far as a football team ? but we want to win championships and that's what this facility is about. That's where we want to be and this is how we're going to get there."
During the design phase, Woodward went on, there was a twofold emphasis. The goal was "to keep the tradition of Husky Stadium and the feel that we've had for decades here, while giving our fans and the recruits in the football operations center a new, modern experience.
"And right now I think we nailed it pretty good. I really love everything about it," he said.
Joining the media tour on Wednesday was former UW player, assistant coach and head coach Jim Lambright, an Everett native. Lambright helped in the design process, which explains why he had the look of a proud papa as he joined the reporters and photographers in their stadium look-see.
The reconstruction was initially budgeted at $250 million. Some late additions to the project -- the university is calling them elective investments -- plus the inclusion of a UW Sports Medicine Center have pushed the final price tag to $280.6 million.
The initial $50 million came from the donations of well-heeled boosters, and the balance of $230.6 million will be funded by the sale of bonds that will be repaid over 30 years. Most of that money will come from stadium revenues, particularly the fees some fans will pay for club seats, patio suites, luxury suites and other premium seating.
One plus for the project, Woodward conceded, was an economic downturn just as the project got under way, meaning construction costs for labor and materials were lower. "We got lucky," he said. "I wouldn't want to be out on the street and pricing this project today. It might be closer to $350 million."
Construction crews were still at the stadium on Wednesday, scrambling to complete some final projects, but the entire effort "is 99.5 percent complete," said Chip Lydum, associate athletic director for operations and capital projects. "There's been quite a push this week."
In the end, Woodward said, the new stadium "is efficient, it's done well, it's done classy, and it's done in a way that fits with who we are at the University of Washington. But it's also really top-notch, and I'm happy to put it up against anyone as far as doing this the right way."
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