Paul Hand is absolutely right.
The co-chair of the committee raising money for the new stadium at Queen’s University says the board of trustees’ weekend approval to commence the $20.27 million project is “a good first step.”
Without a doubt, it is, but that’s all it is—the first of a good many costly, complex, and probably even confrontational steps that must be taken before anybody sets a cleated foot on that new playing field.
First among them is the public consultation process that must accompany such a project, and as beneficial as this new stadium will be to the athletic infrastructure of not just Queen’s, but the city as well, it risks being received unsympathetically by the group of neighbours who caused a fuss in the summer about the noise generated by users of the west-campus athletic facilities.
Even though their bid to thwart a noise-bylaw exemption was laughed out of City Hall by a rare unanimous vote of councillors—and it would be silly to decry building a new stadium in the same spot the old one existed for 42 years—don’t forget this is a bunch that bought property two punts and a long field goal away from a fire hall, the city’s ambulance depot and the biggest outdoor athletic facility between Toronto and Montreal and then suddenly proclaimed sensitivity to noise.
This is not lost on Hand.
“Hopefully we won’t have too many upsets with the local consultation process,” he said. “You sometimes get concerned that NIMBYism can slow things down occasionally but, hopefully, this will not be the case.”
For Queen’s to talk about others slowing the process is a bit of a pot-kettle thing. For years, the athletic administration would cross its fingers while the stadium underwent its annual structural review. Knowing it would soon have to be replaced, upkeep was neglected, decay accelerated and in the spring of 2013 the inevitable diagnosis was delivered: Band-aids and a fresh coat of paint would no longer be sufficient. Half of the stadium’s seats were condemned as unsafe.
This is a fine mess you’ve gotten us into now, Ollie.
It only took 19 months for the glacier called Queen’s to move, from the time of condemnation to the point where the trustees decided, OK, let’s get started. At an institution of frugal Scottish roots—and after the financial debacle that was the Queen’s Centre—it perhaps should be noted that approval came only after fundraisers beat the bushes for the first $17 million of the project’s cost.
For those same administrators to believe that things would now necessarily unfold quickly should make us all giggle. First, we have the assumption that municipal bureaucrats can get the paperwork under control between now and next fall so work can proceed immediately at the end of the 2015 football season. But when it comes to getting things done expeditiously, City Hall makes Queen’s look like the Roadrunner.
Let’s be optimistic. Let’s suppose everything unfolds well, and workers are on the site on Monday morning after the final home game, permits in hand, and Oakridge neighbours are there to serve hot cocoa at break time. Should we really buy into the optimism expressed by those construction types who have assured Queen’s that an old stadium can be demolished and a new one erected in nine to 10 months?
When three or four of those months are part of a Canadian winter?
Granted, a turbo-charged lawn tractor and 50 feet of chain, three workers and about a day and a half are all you’d need to pull the old one down at this point, and we’re not talking about creating the second coming of SkyDome in its place, but that seems awfully ambitious.
So now we have disgruntled citizens possibly girding for Round 2, a municipal bureaucracy not known for its efficiency, and a construction schedule that likely won’t have a lot of wiggle room.
What to do?
For one thing, you can bet Queen’s has asked Ontario University Athletics to schedule its first two games, maybe the first three, on the road, to provide as much cushion as possible for the work to get done. They might hope for one or two weak opponents at the start, so as not to be out of contention by the time the Gaels do get to play in their new pen.
Meanwhile, the rest of us can ponder the proposed design, and take the opportunity to give our two cents’ worth.
From the drawing, it looks nice. It should provide a more pleasant experience for spectators, at least those lucky enough to get a seat between the goal lines. That’s because whereas the current stadium was built with two levels of seating on each side—and none in the end zones—according to the illustration posted on the Queen’s website, the new stadium will have 12 sections of stands between the goal lines, six on either side of the field, and fully eight sections and part of a ninth beyond the south end zone. Essentially, to maintain the current capacity, the new design has replaced the two upper tiers of the old stands—the ones that were condemned—with lower-tier end zone seats.
No doubt it saves a bucket of money to do it that way, but it’s a curious configuration, given the temporary stands that were built at both ends of the stadium to replace some of the condemned seats have largely been shunned in the two seasons they’ve been there. Nice experiment. It failed. Accept the outcome. Don’t perpetuate the mistake. Nobody wants to sit that far from the action.
“There’s lots of different opinions,” Hand said, when asked why the new design would replace good seats—high, on the sides of the field—with bad ones—low, beyond the end zone.
“They wanted to make sure they had eight or nine thousand seats and I guess it’s evolved that way,” he said, noting the perliminary nature of the illustration. “All we have are schematics. The final drawings will need to come together.”
Hand noted that since there will be no running track, the front row of seats won’t be as low as the front row is now, “therefore you’ll get the benefit of a little extra height. It’s going to be built a little further to the east, to take advantage of the berm. Hopefully the intimacy factor will improve and it will create more room on the west side.
“Frankly, I’ve seen so many iterations over the last couple of years, I’ll wait to see what the final drawings look like before I rush to any judgment.”
What else do we see at first glance? The scoreboard, which is touted as “state of the art”—which at Richardson could mean the bulbs are brighter than 15 watts and the clock can actually be read on a sunny day—is at the south end of the stadium, facing the empty north end. All those people in the south-end seats—if there ever are any—won’t be able to see the scoreboard or clock without craning their necks.
We wonder what the seating will be made of. Here’s hoping that it won’t be that awful aluminum in use, for instance, at the new stadia at Western and Waterloo. There is simply no more uncomfortable means of supporting a seated backside this side of an electric chair. Surely something more pleasant can be found; the seats at Alumni Stadium in Windsor, for instance, aren’t bad.
One good aspect is it appears that if the day such demand ever arises, a second tier of bleachers could easily be added on the east side of the stadium. At 9,000 seats, the new place probably would be too small to host the Vanier Cup. Is it wise to build an extra 5,000 seats on spec? No. It is wise to leave room to build them if one day you ever discover you need them? Yes.
There are just two light standards in the illustration. We suspect that’s an oversight, and it’s certainly not a big deal. It is interesting, though, that the illustration shows no light standards facing the backyards of the cranky neighbours on the other side of Sir John A. No doubt the conspiracy theorists will pick up on that.
This is not meant to rain on anyone’s parade. When criticism is offered at such an early juncture, be assured it is meant constructively. If we were going to be cynically critical, we’d lament the lack of a covered grandstand, like the one at the original Richardson Stadium; or the loss of the league’s last natural surface, a field that not only bedeviled Queen’s opponents, but one that, as the largest natural surface in Canada east of Edmonton, landed Kingston many an international soccer and rugby fixture. That ship has clearly sailed. You don’t need groundskeepers for artificial turf, and you can use the crap out of it without risking its ruination. (This one never got past the bean counters).
Make no mistake, this new stadium is needed. A stadium where patrons don’t make jokes about their personal safety is needed. A stadium with less mould than a penicillin factory is needed. A stadium with hot water in the washrooms is needed.
So, ever hopeful, here’s to the fall of 2016. See you at the game.