Parking spots have been taken out, pathways blocked off and trees torn out. Fencing has taken over the Chiles Center Plaza and nearly the entirety of the baseball stadium. The sound of backhoes smashing concrete fills the air.
Construction on Joe Etzel Field and the Chiles Center Plaza is now in its final phase of renovations. The changes to the baseball field include grandstands, expanded dugouts and a renovated press box. The Plaza will also be reconfigured to provide better accessibility for fans to move more freely between the baseball field and the Chiles entrance.
The project began in 2014, when astroturf was installed to replace the grass field. In 2015, lights were also added to the stadium. Astroturf meant that rain would no longer stop the team from practicing. Lights meant that the team could practice at any time, without potentially missing classes, and even play night games for the first time.
“In the old days it was hard for student-athletes to take afternoon classes because we were only playing afternoon games,” Leykam said. “It’s really opened things up for us.”
Along with the new lights and astroturf, the renovations right now include adding more seating. A final determination of the number of seats hasn’t been made yet, but Vice President of Athletics Scott Leykam estimates seating will range between 1,300 and 1,500 spots, including the extra 300 spots created because of the grass berm addition in 2015.
The changes to the Chiles Center Plaza involve eliminating the barrier to get up to the baseball field from Chiles Center. Before construction began, there was a four-foot elevation difference between the Plaza and pathway along the baseball stadium. The goal is to add more ramps from the Plaza to the stadium to make it more accessible to fans.
They will also renovate the area from the corner of Lund into the Chiles parking lot by opening up the pathway and adding a large stairway to go in front of Chiles.
Before and After
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“My big feeling was that we had to make the Plaza more welcoming, more open, and make it more pedestrian friendly,” Vice President of University Operations Ravelli said. “What I didn’t want to do was put the baseball stadium in and then have the baseball stadium block off some of the access.”
For Leykam, Loomis and Ravelli, it’s more than just upgrading a stadium and plaza. With the construction of Schoenfeldt and Fields dorms, the Beauchamp Recreation and Wellness Center and Lund Hall on the far end of campus, Chiles Center Plaza and Joe Etzel Field have become the center of campus. As the geography of campus has changed, they feel it’s vital that the buildings change with it.
“I like having Chiles and Merlo and Etzel and Beauchamp altogether. That’s important,” Leykam said. “The reality aesthetically now is Etzel and Chiles and Merlo are the center of campus with all the construction that’s been done on the other side with Lund, Beauchamp and Tyson-Haggerty and everything else, and this is our chance to really make a change."
Leykam and Ravelli recognize that this kind of major construction can disrupt the usual pedestrian flow. For now, they ask for patience as the construction continues.
The project is donor-funded along with a university contribution and is projected to cost around $6.5 million according to Vice President of Operations Jim Ravelli. Ravelli and Leykam noted that fundraising has been the most difficult part, though the athletic department has seen an increase in donations since 2016.
Athletics raised $3.25 million during the 2018-19 fiscal year, which is the largest single year fundraising effort in the history of the department. Fiscal year 2018 saw the department raise $2.54 million, while 2017 and 2016 saw $971,886 and $938,260 raised respectively.
“We’re all benefaction and fundraising based so it has taken us a while to get to the point where we could actually fund the project,” Ravelli said. “It’s been several years for us figuring out how best to get that accomplished.”
Leykam said the Plaza construction will be broken up into two smaller phases, with work near the baseball field first and the next phase moving closer to the Chiles Center. However, the Plaza construction near the baseball field is expected to be done come wintertime.
“In reality we didn’t want to take the whole Plaza offline,” Leykam said. “That would have been extremely disruptive to the pedestrian flow around campus.”
Their hope is that the final phase will be complete by springtime, with Ravelli pointing to May as a potential date of completion. Leykam noted that much of it will depend on the weather.
Before and After
As of now, the plan is to have home games in either Hillsboro or Ridgefield. In 2014, the Hillsboro Hops let the Pilots use their stadium for home games while the astroturf was installed. The Pilots also played a game there last year against Oregon State, which they won 5-1.
“I was telling our guys here that we’re just going to have to be flexible,” Baseball head coach Geoff Loomis said. “Can’t control really an end date at this point with the stadium.”
Senior baseball player Henry Cheney accepts the process is worth the end product and is excited about seeing the stadium he was sold on during his recruiting visits come to fruition. He’s even found an advantage to all the construction.
“It builds actually a pretty good environment for game scenarios where it’s going to be loud and you have to be extra loud for communication,” Cheney said. “Hopefully it’ll be when we get that new stadium as loud as the actual dump trucks and construction going on.”
Joe Etzel Field has been home to Pilot baseball since 1988, named after the former head baseball coach and athletic director. The stadium has gone through some renovations in the past, including an expansion of the stadium’s capacity to 1,000 spectators in 1996 and the addition of the Andy Pienovi Hitting Facility in 2005, but there haven’t been many changes since then.
“They came out a couple times my first year and we had the city come out and give them a safer place to live,” Loomis said. “But it’s just got so many holes in it that it was no longer just having the ability to put bandaids on it.”
Loomis is one of the most decorated baseball players in UP history. Loomis played for the Pilots from 1990 to 1992 and still holds the career record for batting average. When he was hired as head coach of the Pilots in 2015, he returned to find that not much has changed with the stadium.
“It’s the same stadium I played in,” Loomis said about Joe Etzel field. “Prior to the astroturf being put in, and the new scoreboard and the lights, really nothing had changed.”
Loomis admitted the stadium’s 30-year life span was impressive, but pointed to the rotting wood and constant patching of holes as a problem. Loomis even talked about how his first year on campus their were raccoons living inside the holes of the grandstand.
For Loomis and Leykam, the fan experience is important, but doesn’t take priority over what the players’ needs.
“If you go out there and stand on the pitcher’s mound and you look at the stadium, you’ve got new fencing, new scoreboard, new lights, new turf, but the stadium just doesn’t fit with that. So, it’s the player experience as well,” Loomis said.
That upgraded player experience was something Cheney was sold on during his recruitment. Now he hopes his final season will see him playing on the updated Joe Etzel Field.
“It’s been a long process,” Cheney said. “They’ve been talking about it while I was getting recruited here my junior year of high school...Finally getting it going is probably the most exciting part and just finally playing in it.”
Cheney noted that he felt the old stadium wasn’t bad, it was just old. Still, having the opportunity to play in a new stadium is something he thinks will be a plus for fans and players alike.
“I hope it brings more excitement to the baseball program around campus and off campus, that people will say ‘Oh, we got to go check out the new baseball stadium,’” Cheney said. “It’s kind of a fresh start to turn the page of this new chapter.”
Leykam sees these renovations as opening the door for more renovations to that area of campus, specifically the Chiles Center and Merlo Field. The Chiles Center opened in 1984 while Merlo Field was constructed in 1990. Though there are currently no plans to do renovations to those two venues, it is something Leykam feels is important.
“I think with a very long view, and it’s not tomorrow, we need to start looking at what Chiles looks like long term and what Merlo looks like long term,” Leykam said.
Kyle Garcia is the Sports editor for The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.