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Digging Dawgs' digs
Is lowering the field feasible?
By: Richard Linde, Posted 18 July 2002

Aerial photo of Husky Stadium by Mary Levin The idea of removing the track, lowering the field and adding more seats to Husky Stadium along its lower rim has been suggested by a number of fans. But there are some problems that need to be addressed.

Such an expansion would add even more noise and boisterousness to the stadium and ostensibly improve the view for fans sitting in its lower rows. As a home-field advantage, it would have the effect of turning a gigantic sea plane with drawn up purple wings (see photo by Levin) into a B-2 Bomber. The noise level and fan interaction with the players would be devastating to the enemy, ear-splitting to the fans, and inspiring to the donors. 

Like listening to an Elvis song, the players would rock, the enemy would roll (over) and fans would catch a football jones.

As I see it, the field can be lowered in one of two ways: (1) Lower the field by three to four feet to improve the sight lines for fans with obstructed views or (2) Lower the field even more, remove the track and add more seating around the bottom rim of the horseshoe.

To get a better handle on these ideas--after all, I'm just a fan--I did some research and found some potential problems. 

It's been done before.

Each plan has been incorporated in other stadiums around the country. Michigan lowered its field at the Big House by three-and-one half feet to provide better sight lines in the lower rows of the stadium, but no extra seating was added. In 1994, the field at the Los Angeles Coliseum was lowered and the track was removed. Fifteen rows of seats were added to provide 8,400 permanent seats. Additional improvements included completely rebuilt, state-of-the-art locker rooms and new yard-level restrooms. The cost of the project was $90 million.

Cost, traffic problems, parking.

Because the Kingdome was no longer an adequate milieu for sports, the Seahawks planned to renovate Husky stadium and share its use with the Huskies since it seemed the most cost-effective way to proceed. Original estimates began at $100 million but then zoomed to between $347 million and $378 million. With no increase in seating, that plan would have lowered the field and added 100 luxury boxes between the upper and lower decks. Yielding to protests from various groups in the adjacent district who felt that the area would be harmed by increased traffic and parking problems, the planners shelved it.

On July 28th, the Seattle Sounders will kick off the Seahawk's new $400 million stadium, which was built at the site housing the Kingdome. It was funded by taxpayer money. 

Although the cost of retrofitting Husky stadium is an issue, there are other potential problems. 

Line of sight.

Lowering the field and removing the track to add more seats could present problems for those sitting in the two upper decks at Husky Stadium. Portions of the upper deck and the stands below could obstruct fans’ line-of-sight to the playing field. Dig a hole deep enough into the ground and eventually no one can see to the bottom unless they are standing right over it, assuming it isn’t infinitely deep.

Water table.

Practice field, Dempsey Indoor and Stadium. Photo by Kim Grinolds, dawgman.com
And then there is a potential water table problem, which was a consideration when Dempsey Indoor--kitty-corner to the stadium--was built. Before Lake Washington was lowered in 1916, that site was mostly underwater. 

During the 1965 Seattle earthquake, portions of the football field tore up and geysers of water spewed forth. [Hanford].

Originally carved by glaciers that left hard soil conditions ranging from 30 to 100 feet underneath, that site (Dempsey Indoor) gradually filled with lake bottom muck over thousands of years. According to the architectural report, “These layers of peat and sand were covered with additional soils between 1940 and 1960 from materials excavated during construction of Interstate 5 and state Route 520. The layering of these varying ground materials created an unstable soil condition…To deal with these conditions and the site’s high liquefaction potential, a pile-supported facility was developed. In the event of a large earthquake, the soils may liquefy, but the facility remains standing above, essentially as one thinks of a pier.” [Hanford].

There have been complaints about the lowering of the field at the Big House. As one fan wrote on the web, “What's the story with the grass field at Michigan Stadium? Apparently lowering the field has made the problems even worse…The Wisconsin game was an embarrassment. Gorgeous day. Michigan's biggest game of the year. National TV audience. The Big House filled with potential recruits. And the field looked like a cow pasture. Players on both sides fell every time they tried to make a cut. And that was on a beautiful day in September. What happens in late October and early November when the weather is lousy?” [Foster].

According to an article describing the building of Michigan stadium, “The site formed a gentle slope from the valley of the old Allen's Creek (long since diverted underground) rising to the level of South Main Street. Part of the site was still a working farm. The area had a very high water table and much of the low lying ground was swampy, necessitating extensive drainage works. Some referred to the tract as "Tillotson's Pond" after Athletic Department business manager Henry Tillotson.” [Michigan].

Water Table Problem Solved at Ohio State

Apparently a problem with the water table, which is just five feet below the surface of the old playing field, was solved at Ohio Stadium when the field was lowered by 14 feet 6 inches. A 45-foot deep trench filled with concrete, called a slurry wall, was built around the field to stabilize the earth on either side of the wall. It allowed the field to be lowered and remain dry. In effect, acting as a large bathtub it keeps the surrounding water from seeping into the field.  [Ohio State]

The track.

Aside from problems concerning the water table and sight lines from the two upper decks, the removal the eight-lane track could be another issue that needs resolution. The track was donated to the University as a $1.5 million gift from the Seattle Organizing Committee in preparation for the 1990 Goodwill Games.

I was sold on idea number two (removing the track, lowering the field and adding more seats along the rim) before I did some research. Now, I’m not so sure.

In summary, there are number potential problems with that idea. They concern the water table underneath the field, the line-of-sight to the field from the upper decks, traffic congestion and parking around the stadium, removal of the eight-lane track, and construction costs. They all make me wonder if it’s worth the cost of doing a feasibility study 


[Hanford] Hanford, Jim, “Husky practice building gives designers a workout,” Carlson Architects, September 13, 2001. http://www.djc.com/news/co/11125728.html

[Michigan] The Michigan Stadium Story, Building the Big House. http://www.umich.edu/~bhl/stadium/stadtext/stadbild.htm

[Van Dyke]. Foster, Terry, “Van Dyke man with experience,” The Detroit News, October 8, 2000. http://detnews.com/2000/msu/0010/11/d02-131462.htm

[Ohio State] http://ohiostatebuckeyes.ocsn.com/stadium-renovation/renovation-page.html


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