Amherst's Pratt Field to Receive Extensive Makover
Courtesy Amherst Sports Information
AMHERST, Mass. — Amherst College's Pratt Field, a beacon of small college athletics tradition and the third-oldest NCAA football playing site in the nation, will undergo an extensive renovation that also will add a new fieldhouse, grandstands, and track that will allow it to host championship level track meets for the first time since 1996.
"Pratt Field and the field house are long-standing priorities for the Athletics Department," said Amherst College president Biddy Martin. "I am delighted that a generous lead gift and matching donations will enable the College to enhance its facilities, benefiting a number of intercollegiate and club sports without sacrificing our other fundraising needs, or using College operating funds."
The project, which was recently approved by trustees, is slated to be complete by fall 2013. Planning is underway, and construction of the 15,000-square-foot field house, which will accommodate teams including football and field hockey in the fall and men's and women's track, men's and women's lacrosse, and softball in the spring, is expected to begin in early fall. Renovation of Pratt Field will begin after the conclusion of the fall 2012 football season.
"The ultimate aim of the renovation project is to retain the character and appeal of the 121-year-old Pratt Field complex, while at the same time replacing its outdated components, such as the Debevoise Fieldhouse," said Athletics Director Suzanne Coffey. "We anticipate and expect that people will continue to feel that this is the Pratt Field that they know and love."
The project is estimated to cost about $12.5 million, and will be paid for entirely with donations, the largest being a $6.8 million lead gift from an anonymous benefactor.
Seven other major contributors to the project have also chosen to remain anonymous for the time being, said Chief Advancement Officer Megan Morey. That's in keeping with other recent gifts to Amherst. In November 2009, a $100 million gift and a $25 million gift—the two largest in the college's history—were also donated anonymously.
Before they could support the Pratt Field project, President Martin and trustees set some strict preconditions. Those ground rules included a donor-funded feasibility study, and that 100 percent of the project's estimated cost be raised before construction began, from the fewest donors possible, and from donors whose interests were limited to the Pratt Field or top Athletics priorities.
"The lead donor also wanted to do it in as short a time as possible," Morey said. "This whole process has been very exciting, and has required us to respond nimbly with enthusiasm and creativity."
Pratt Field is in close proximity to several houses owned by faculty members along Orchard and Hitchcock streets, and college officials will take care to minimize inconvenience and disruption, during construction and thereafter, said Jim Brassord, Director of Facilities. Brassord said he and Athletics staff will soon reach out to neighbors to explain project details and respond to any concerns that are raised.
Pratt Field Renovation Project Highlights
- The east/west orientation of the field and track will shift slightly to align with the Hitchcock gates, which allows for the track upgrade.
- The field will be constructed of artificial turf (an all-weather, multi-use surface appropriate for many field sports including football, lacrosse and rugby). The field and track will be set 3.5 feet below the standing grade. The bowl effect will afford viewing that will feel to spectators like they are closer to the play. The tradition of allowing children and other spectators close proximity to the game field will be continued and enhanced by the change in elevation.
- The field will have lights appropriate for evening practices and contests.
- The track will be an 8-lane all-weather track designed to meet International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) standards, allowing Amherst to host championship level track meets once again. The last time we were able to host the NESCAC championship was in 1996, before the bleachers were installed inside the track.
- Stadium seating will be constructed outside the track area. The current stadium seating will be replaced with approximately the same capacity seating. Home side seating will move to the north side to take advantage of the views and the afternoon sun, the visitors seating will move to the south side.
- Stadium seating will be constructed outside the track area. The current stadium seating will be replaced (some elements of the structure may be available to be repurposed). Home side seating (approx. capacity 1,800) will move to the north side, the visitors seating (approx. capacity 700) will move to the south side.
- Current plans are for a brick paved gathering area behind the home grandstands. There will be public restrooms and a concession area in that location. There will also be public restrooms under the visitor grandstands.
- Tailgating areas will be relocated to the western end of the field. Cars and tents may be set up on the grass in a U shape surrounding the western end of the field. The amount of space for tailgating is improved by this relocation.
- There will be a 20- to 24-inch brick wall around the north and west sides of track. This will be suitable for seating and will create a pleasing visual (and safety) barrier behind which tailgating will occur.
- Vehicular traffic on game days will enter the facility from Route 9. The Hitchcock entrance will be pedestrian only, adding to the sense that on game days the campus community walks down Hitchcock Road and through the gates to the field.
- There will be a one-lane access road to the north of the field, with a curb cut off of Orchard Street. This access road will allow service vehicles (maintenance vehicles and golf carts) to enter and exit without using Route 9.
- A new stadium press box at the top of the home grandstands will accommodate the media, including print, radio and television broadcasts.
- The Fieldhouse, by designing flexible space, will accommodate teams including football and field hockey in the fall and men's and women's track, men's and women's lacrosse, and softball in the spring. The building will open on the lower level to Gooding Field to the west and on the upper level to Pratt Field to the east. There will be coaches' and referees' locker spaces included. It is approximately 15,000 square feet, which is equivalent to a small dorm such as Garman House. The Fieldhouse will also have a state-of-the-art medical facility (exam, taping and treatment rooms), and an equipment/laundry room. The third level will house a team video, meeting, and alumni gathering room with windows oriented to offer views to both Gooding and Pratt Fields.