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Stadium report an opportunity for Queen's to create 'wonderful' new facility, former trustee says
Posted: May 8th, 2013 @ 7:07pm
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
A man who eight years ago unsuccessfully floated a plan to build a new football and soccer stadium on the main campus of Queen's University is confident university administrators appreciate the urgency of building one now.
"It's pretty hard to have a 10,000-person Homecoming in a classroom," Don Bayne says.
Years ago, Bayne, an Ottawa lawyer, former university trustee and ex-Golden Gaels football player, developed a plan that would relocate the football stadium to roughly the same place as the original Richardson Stadium. It would have run east-west, next to Union Street, with an artificial surface and underground parking.
The plan failed to gain traction with the university administration, which today has egg on its face in the wake of a report that has condemned the upper portion of stands on both sides of the current stadium as unsafe. With a month to go before Rugby Canada is to host a Pacific Nations Cup game there, Queen's has yet to declare how it hopes to cope with a crowd that was expected to fill most of a stadium whose capacity has now been reduced to about 3,700.
At the time he presented his plan, Bayne said there was a benefactor in place who was willing to donate $1 million, if the stadium would be rebuilt on the main campus. The university was cool to the plan, saying it had plans for the corner of Union and Lower Albert streets, at the northwest corner of the proposed site.
Meanwhile, that site was renovated. Tindall Field now has artificial turf, the underground parking lot got built anyway and the property that had ostensibly been earmarked for an unspecified other use is now a surface parking lot.
And a stadium that had been Canada's largest capacity natural grass athletic venue east of Edmonton has been rendered an embarrassment.
"It's a tough situation for a university that rightfully brands itself as pure excellence in everything it does," Bayne said.
"In fairness, the university recently has been looking very hard at new stadium concepts and initiatives. Maybe this will add appropriate priority for the board of trustees and the campus planning and development committee to realize that this is an urgent matter."
Bayne said the question of replacing Richardson Stadium is not just a jock issue. He spoke of the findings in a recent study by Doug J. Chung of the Harvard Business School on the relationship between athletic success and a university's ability to attract students, faculty and alumni lucre.
Chung found that athletic success has a significant long-term "goodwill effect" on not only the number of future applications, but the quality of those applicants. Surprisingly, he wrote, athletic success impacts applications even among academically gifted students.
"Many of us have, sort of in vain, been trying over the years to get that message across," Bayne said. "I guess after years on the Queen's board I'm a bit of a realist about how universities move on certain things.
"The reality is, in Canada high-profile sport in academic schools is a hard sell."
Historically, Bayne said, the board of trustees has assigned a low priority to field sport at Queen's. He believes that was a mistake.
"(Success in major sports), as many reputed academic studies have shown, is quite valuable to universities, especially academic universities," he said. "There's a real dividend to be paid for excellence in their athletic endeavours. They're not inimical. Perhaps - this news will prompt board members who might have otherwise thought people were overblowing the problems of the stadium to understand this is a real and urgent problem.
"Queen's always prided itself on the broader learning experience, not just the wonderful academic credentials it has, but the whole range of student experience. It's been a major part of the brand and you have to work at that. (Athletics) is very much a part of the quality student experience at Queen's and it has to be prioritized."
Bayne says he is not disappointed that his specific proposal wasn't embraced. Generally, however, he's dismayed that replacing a stadium that was supposed to be a ten-year stop-gap solution - hence the recycling of steel and lumber from the original stadium - was never on the planning radar in the almost 30 years "beyond its best-by date."
"Has this been an issue that hasn't been appropriately prioritized in the past?" he said. "Yes. Is this an issue that will be properly prioritized now? I think so and I hope so. I really do believe that the current administration at the university and the key people - the principal, vice-principal of advancement, the athletics director - get it. They do understand that if you're going to have major sport, and you bill yourself as excellent in everything you do, you have to have excellent facilities.
"The Queen's Centre is an example of that. You've done the indoor facility, now let's do the outdoor facility and let's get it right, and do it in a Queen's way, in a national-standard type of way, where we set a new bar for outdoor field sport facilities."
Bayne hopes ultimately good will come from this crisis.
"Hopefully, this will light a fire," he said. "I think you can turn a negative here into a real positive if it's handled the right way. The current administration could leverage this report into tremendous momentum for a wonderful new stadium at Queen's. That would be a real feather in their cap, (an opportunity) to show real leadership."
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