Stunning transformation of A&M’s Kyle Field gives fans taste of what’s to come

NS_08kylefieldI_38703889_923140COLLEGE STATION — Texas A&M officials decided early on that no tours would be allowed of the ongoing $450 million redevelopment of Kyle Field. No distractions to slow completion of the first phase of the aggressive two-year project before taking a mid-construction break to play the 2014 football season. The quickly approaching home opener is Sept. 6 against Lamar.

No exceptions for a sneak peek, that is, except for maybe football coach Kevin Sumlin … and some recruits.

“To put on a hard hat and walk around a little bit,” Sumlin recently told a group of supporters in Fort Worth of his wooing of prospects. “For us to do that is amazing. We’re building the finest football facility in America.”

Phillip Ray, chief business development officer for the A&M System, which oversees the project, admitted shamelessly: “Coach Sumlin can bring whoever he wants.”

Cranes tower above the ever-changing construction site, A&M’s home stadium since 1927. Even from street level outside the stadium or high up in the press box, the view is that of a stunning transformation.

The now-behemoth south end zone stands replace rinky-dink bleachers. Since the south side backs up to A&M’s Bright Football Complex, the coaches temporarily moved out of their offices following the spring season to allow the cranes to do the heavy lifting.

A massive video board (47×164 with 1080 resolution), which A&M says it believes is the largest in college athletics, is perched on the top of the new south structure.

“You can imagine a fourth-quarter drive going into that,” Ray said. “The Aggie faithful will be ready.”

The first deck of the east stands, better known as the side where some 31,000 students stand, is rebuilt, complete with 20 new suites between the first and second decks. The second and third decks were not rebuilt. Another new video board is up on the northeast tower. Much of the new brick facade is already in place.

A new canopy crowns the east stands, providing new lights, some shade and topping a new press box. The interior of the side includes new air-conditioned cool zones, increased restrooms and concessions and wider concourses.

The stadium is on its way to being fully enclosed — designed to be louder, surrounding a field that has been lowered seven feet and moved 18 feet to the south. Fans are closer to the field on the east side, roughly the same real estate where former quarterback Johnny Manziel hopped into the stands last November to celebrate his final Aggies home game. Construction started almost immediately after.

The more recent north end zone addition, “The Zone,” circa 1999, is mostly untouched, and the west side won’t be demolished and rebuilt until after the upcoming regular season ends on Thanksgiving. The final completion is scheduled for the 2015 season, beginning with the home opener Sept. 12 against Ball State.

School officials say the project, run by Manhattan-Vaughn Construction, is progressing on schedule and on budget, which Ray said A&M officials know is being scrutinized.

More than 1,000 workers in yellow vests toil most days, with around 100 working through the night. One of A&M’s contingencies was the ability to increase its labor volume if needed as the season neared. Many pieces of the project were built off-site and then brought to Kyle Field.

The stadium has morphed into a conglomeration of new and old, which creates its own challenges for the 2014 transition season. For example, A&M will synchronize the new east side lighting with the old west side lighting this season.

“That to me is a real obvious example of the coordination that you have to have to be successful for the transition year,” said Russ Wallace, executive director of facilities planning and construction for the A&M system.

Wallace said A&M has a day-by-day checklist (think: fire marshals) that it will use in the final weeks to make sure the stadium is ready to host on Sept. 6.

Some of the bells and whistles won’t be complete until 2015, including a full overhaul of concessions, the repaving of Houston Street along the east side and IBM technology that will improve cellphone usage — including selfie-and-Instagram posting ability — during games.

A&M is working on the 12th Man Productions Studios, to be completed later this year, under the south end zone, a project that cost an additional $12 million that will accommodate, in part, the ultimately three new video boards and the new SEC Network, which launches Aug. 14.

Kyle’s capacity will increase from 82,589 to more than 106,000 this season, before going down to 102,512 when the renovations on the west side are done.

A&M regent Jim Schwertner suggested in May that the stadium, which will be the biggest in Texas and the SEC, eventually be renamed Kyle Field, the House that Johnny built. The statement garnered a lot of attention, but seemingly no momentum.

This swath of Texas is suddenly full of gleaming stadiums. Baylor is getting set to open its new, 45,000-seat, $250 million McLane Stadium about 90 miles up the road on Aug. 31.

In College Station, work continues on the much-anticipated redo of the heart of Aggieland.

“The team is going to be extremely proud of Sept. 6,” Ray said, “but we also are very optimistic and enthusiastic about what’s going to happen for the 2015 season. This will be a transition year. You’re not going to see the full scope of this thing, but it’s starting to give you a taste.”

Kyle Field redevelopment

Total cost: $450 million

Phases: 2. The east and south projects are scheduled to be done for the 2014 season, with the west side demolished and rebuilt for the 2015 season.

Seating capacity: 106,000-plus for 2014 and 102,512 for 2015 and beyond.

Square footage of main video board: 7,645

Number of pixels of main video board: 4,152,876

Light fixtures: 22,800

Structural steel in tons: 14,820