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The structure originally held 31,218 fans and was constructed at cost of $4 million. University Stadium was expanded prior to the start of the 2001 season. Capacity increased to 38,000. The final phase of construction is underway to increase the capacity of University Stadium to more than 42,000. The stadium features many unique qualities, beginning with the "berm" type of structure. The berm approach locates the field slightly below ground level with seats both above and below the natural ground level. Seats are arranged in a fan pleasing curved pattern with an almost complete bowl shaped by the seats below the concourse level. The playing field itself is a natural turf and offers a quick draining system beneath the hybrid Bermuda playing surface. The stadium is located just off Interstate 25 on the eastern edge of the main campus and is directly east of The Pit.
1960: Lobos Get New Stadium
By Terry Gugliotta
In the fall of 1960, UNM was 17 days away from the opening game in its new stadium. The Lobos were to play the University of Mexico in what was billed an international event. There was one problem - the stadium seats were sitting in a ship docked in Tampa Bay, Florida.
"The wood specified by the architects for the seating was greenheart," said Floyd Williams, former head of the UNM physical plant department. "It was sent from British Guiana and, due to the lack of shipping facilities in the Caribbean, UNM could not get all the wood it needed," he added. But the seats were only one of the many setbacks to the stadium's construction.
The original $525,000 estimate for the job was too low. The nine months to construct the 30,000-seat stadium, which would include a press box and separate concession, ticket and restroom buildings, was almost unrealistic.
Back-to-back winning football seasons in 1958 and 1959 and their resultant crowds had pushed the new stadium's construction. So had the University's need to build academic facilities on the land where old Zimmerman Stadium had stood.
UNM closed Zimmerman Stadium at the end of the 1959 football season and scrambled to acquire the land for the new stadium. After months of negotiations, a deal was struck with the owners, Albuquerque Public Schools, for an acre-for-acre land trade. UNM acquired land at Stadium and University Boulevards.
UNM then sold additional property in the I-40 area to a housing developer to raise part of the estimated cost of the stadium.
With comparable stadiums of the time costing well over $1 million, UNM was on a tight budget. President Tom Popejoy came up with the idea to construct the stadium in an arroyo, where "the field was the bottom and the seats were constructed on the naturally sloping walls," Williams said. UNM designed the project and set contract bids in three phases to further control costs.
Phase I included leveling and constructing of the playing field. Phase II would compact the existing arroyo slopes and phase III would pour the concrete and construct the concession and other buildings. With time ticking away, the first priority was to construct the field - the task was like putting the lawn in before building the house. Work began in January 1960 so the field would be ready for grass seed after the last frost.
"Back in those days, we didn't have sod farms; you planted grass from seed," Williams said.
The grass was planted in May and the field fenced off. While a flurry of construction activity went on around the field, the grass was gently coaxed into growth.
The total cost of phase I was $32,000.
Phase II began in February, but the bids were too high. UNM decided to revise the plans to lower the costs. According to a February 1960 memo from the architects, W.C. Kruger and Associates, $159,000 could be saved by downgrading the stadium's mechanical requirements, eliminating finishes on concrete and tile, redesigning the press box and ticket booths, and replacing concrete walls with chain-link fencing.
The arroyo's sloping sides were built up with additional dirt to avoid expensive steel construction of the stadium's upper level seating. With five months remaining until the September opening, workers poured the concrete on the arroyo sides forming the base of the seating. Special steel beams shaped like rakes were designed to hook into the arroyo sides. The rake design prevented the concrete from sliding down the slope.
Theoretically, if there was any ground movement, the rake would simply "dig" further into the ground, according to an article, The Stadium Story at the New Mexico University, by M.F. Fifield.
A marketing blitz by local grocery chain Piggly Wiggly helped sell tickets to the opening game. Known as "Piggly Wiggly Tech," the store gave free football tickets with the purchase of $25 worth of groceries. The stadium would be nearly filled.
But filled or not, at the eleventh hour, the most important ingredient missing from the stadium was seats for the fans.
The greenheart wood for the seats arrived in Albuquerque by train three days before the opening game. Construction crews worked around the clock to install the seating on time.
While the stadium was complete for the opening game, the streets leading to the stadium had yet to be paved and only one parking lot had been finished.
Despite efforts to keep costs down, the stadium was more than 30 percent over budget when the job was finished.
The opening night game saw 24,000 fans. The game was a blowout: UNM crushed Mexico, 77-6.
Continued fan support of football led to the construction of a new press box with private suites in 1976. When Lavon McDonald became athletic director he pressed hard for the new box.
Because the stadium had been built on earthen fill, the press box had to be supported on large concrete cylinders that went down to the pre-existing ground level. The press box cost $1.8 million, added 646 seats and today generates over $180,000 a season.
In 1992, plans to expand the stadium to 60,000 seats, to increase the number of concession and restroom facilities and to build office and training facility began.
The first phase of the 1992 plan was completed in three years. The L.F. "Tow" Diehm facility includes 572 seats, athletics offices, locker rooms and training facilities. It is the anchor for the next phase of construction which will add 15,000 seats in the south end zone.
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Plans Begin for Next Phase of Building at University Stadium
By Terry Gugliotta
Build it and they will come - eventually. It has been nearly 40 years since construction of the 30,000-seat University Stadium and the anticipation of capacity football crowds in the early 1990s led UNM to draw up plans for the stadium's expansion.
The five-phase project includes: Phase I, a free-standing athletic training facility; Phases II and III, the replacement of upper-level grandstands with a steel frame platform; Phase IV, the addition of 15,000 seats in the south end zone and the expansion of the training facilities; and Phase V, the addition of 15,000 seats in the north end zone. Phase I, the athletic training facility near the south end zone, was completed in 1995 and named for the late L.F. "Tow" Diehm, Associate Director of Athletics, who lobbied the State Legislature for its funding. In a December 1997 interview, Diehm summed up his dreams for the stadium: "Hopefully we will get some money this year  in capital outlay to put some seats in the south end of the stadium and maybe pave another parking lot. Then I think we'll be in darn good shape," he said. Phases II and III of the expansion plan probably will be finished after the north and south end zones are done said Roger Lujan, director of UNM's Facility Planning Department.
He said to rebuild the existing upper-level grandstands with steel-frame construction and put bathrooms and concessions underneath is possible in the future, but will be very expensive.
Lujan added that, due to funding and the expense of renovating the east and west stands, the north and south end zones would probably be finished first.
Phase IV of the expansion plan is being planned now and, if funded, is expected to be completed by the start of the 2000 football season. The estimated cost of Phase IV is $18 million and expected to come from private donations and the Legislature. Athletics Director Rudy Davalos said one-third of the money will come from a major donor, probably corporate, one-third will come from private donations and a ticket surcharge, and the final one-third will come from the Legislature. The expansion plan was designed by the Kansas City, Mo.-based sports facility group Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum Inc. (HOK) in association with Westwork Architects in 1992. HOK company spokesperson Kristin Stoneman said the group has designed sports facilities around the world. This year, the groups Baltimore and Tampa Bay National Football League stadiums opened and they are in the planning stages of a new stadium for Cleveland. HOK just finished expansion plans for Penn State's Beaver Stadium. Constructed in 1960, the original 30,000 stadium seats are steel-reinforced concrete poured directly on the ground. Because no steel frame is in the construction, renovations are cost prohibitive. So UNM is jumping to Phase IV of the expansion plan.
When the stadium was constructed, the cost per seat was $24. Davalos cites cost as one reason the expansion should be done now. "It's only going to get more expensive as time goes on," he said. A larger stadium has other benefits.
"If you have a large enough stadium, you can host concerts, National Football League exhibition games, or World Cup Soccer, for example," said head football coach Rocky Long. "All of these events have requirements of stadium size."
Long also said UNM's stadium is very small compared with most Division I schools, making it harder for the University to recruit players. "I personally think the setting of the stadium is pretty. It's intimate. It's a nice place to watch a football game," Long said.
With the break-up of the Western Athletic Conference, Davalos said UNM is at a crossroads and needs to consider expanding the stadium to be more like that of other Division I schools. "We're at the bottom two or three of the new league and we need to be at least up near, say Texas Tech, whose stadium holds 48,000," he said.
Davalos added, "We can't get guarantees to play big schools in a small stadium because guarantees are so expensive."
Davalos also noted that without a winning team it's hard for people to see the need for a larger stadium. Referring to this football season and the win-loss record, Davalos said, "People are expecting miracles this year, but we'll be an average team. We lost 20 seniors off the team last year." But Davalos said he hopes that football fans, who he says are more fragile than basketball fans, will continue to support the program.
"We have a hardcore group of solid fans," he said. "We just don't have as many as basketball percentage-wise."
Twenty thousand ticket holders are needed to sell out the games, and UNM now has 14,200 season ticket holders.
"I think the number of football fans is growing," Davalos said. "Now we need to provide them with better seating and restroom and concession facilities."
Source: Ballparks.COM wishes to thank Terry Gugliotta, who is the University of New Mexico's archivist, for contributing these stories.
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