Editor's note: Today's story is the first in a three-part series examining the potential facilities upgrades the University of Colorado is exploring for Folsom Field.
Part 1: The plan. A look at the ideas CU officials are considering for stadium renovations.
Part 2: The process. An examination of what it will take to realize the plans.
Part 3: The payoff. Breaking down the rewards CU can reap by following through with pricey upgrades.
When would the athletic department add new programs?
And when would it improve facilities for its current 16 teams?
There always was a heavy emphasis on football with the second question because, after all, it is the sport that pays for all of the others and college football is the reason each Pac-12 athletic department will soon be raking in more than $20 million a year in television revenue alone.
Athletic director Mike Bohn answered the first question in February when he announced CU was adding women's lacrosse, primarily because it needed to balance out its Title IX numbers. He said there are no plans to add more sports any time soon because the priority is to invest in the current programs and make them all as competitive as possible.
Later in the spring, Bohn announced the department was taking a first step toward improving Folsom Field by installing new HD video boards on the north and south ends of the stadium at a cost of $7 million. He also said the school would have more to say in September regarding "transformational" projects in and around its 88-year-old stadium.
The school has been conducting a feasibility study for months to provide a realistic estimate of what it will be able to raise in private donations for upgrades at Folsom Field. The Daily Camera has obtained through open records requests renderings of some of the possible upgrades being studied. We will publish them in Saturday's edition along with the conclusion of our three-part series on possible facilities upgrades.
Ideas being considered as part of the project include a permanent indoor practice facility that would be attached to the stadium and the Dal Ward Center and possibly include underground parking.
Other possibilities include enclosing the north end of the stadium and making it possible to walk around the entire stadium without ever losing sight of the field. Expanding the Dal Ward Center, adding a larger weight room and more academic space and making it possible to house the entire athletic department under one roof, with the exception of those programs based at the Coors Events Center.
Remodeling Balch Fieldhouse on the west side, adding a second level of seating, a new press box and a handful of suites as well as space that could be used for both academic and athletic purposes, is also under consideration.
The feasibility study is scheduled to be completed in late September and once it is, CU can determine how much it will likely need to finance from future Pac-12 television revenue. No public money or funds from the school will be used.
CU hasn't made any significant additions to the stadium since 2003 when the east side suites and club seats were added. That $42 million project was financed completely and the athletic department continues to pay for it at a cost of nearly $4 million annually.
Officials don't want to go down that road again, adding more debt service than is absolutely necessary to the athletic department's bottom line. This time around a sizable portion of the project must be paid for by donors or the size and scope will be curtailed or possibly done in stages much like the improvements made at the Coors Events Center over the past five years.
"We have big aspirations," CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard said. "We wouldn't have gone into the Pac-12 if we didn't. But aspirations are easy. The challenge at CU-Boulder is always find a way to fund those big aspirations."
The video boards, which have since been installed, are a nice addition and will improve the fan experience on Saturdays this season, but they've been nothing more than a pacifier at best to a fan base hungry to see more investment in football.
Colorado hasn't had a winning season on the gridiron since 2005. The Buffs haven't been to a bowl game since 2007 and the fear is that CU is getting left behind. Nearly every other Pac-12 school has either recently completed upgrades to its football facilities or is in the process of doing so.
Colorado State -- often considered little brother in Boulder -- has spent much of the offseason debating building a proposed $250 million on-campus stadium.
That has only heightened the frustration among CU fans, who don't understand how CSU could even be considering such a bold move. After all, the Rams have received laughable fan support in recent years and CSU receives miniscule revenue from the Mountain West Conference when compared with the dollars the Buffs will soon have in the Pac-12.
But it's not as if CU officials are sitting on their hands satisfied to be in a new conference.
Chancellor Phil DiStefano made a brief presentation to the board of regents in June of what he called a "facility review and potential upgrade" at Folsom Field and the Coors Events Center.
"I should note that since 1979, when the wooden seats were replaced with aluminum ones, very little has been done to the general stadium facility," DiStefano said in his presentation.
DiStefano, Bohn and others flew to Washington earlier this year where they met administrators and staffers there to study how the school planned for and began to execute a major renovation and construction project at Husky Stadium.
Washington athletic director Scott Woodward is in his fourth year and he said his top priority from the beginning was gaining approval for and beginning the stadium renovation project that will cost $250 million.
Woodward said he expects Colorado will ultimately decide to make improvements to Folsom, but he knows better than anyone it's a decision that won't come as quickly as some supporters expect it to.
"I don't think they have an alternative," Woodward said. "I think it's a must-do. Because for every big time collegiate program, football is the goose laying the golden egg. It is the engine driving the economic machine of an athletic department, whether it's 85 percent like we have of our revenue or 80 percent or 90 percent. It's a vast majority of it. So you have to continue to invest and maintain the engine that is driving the financial well-being of your department and a stadium is imperative to that."
In his presentation to the regents in June, DiStefano made it clear that some renovations and improvements must be done to address "structural and safety concerns."
DiStefano did not specifically outline what those concerns are, but Jeff Lipton, interim vice chancellor for administration, said the primary concern is an area in the northeast corner of the stadium that is moving slightly each year, causing cracks in the concrete in the seating area there. Lipton said that part of the stadium is built on a hill and the hill naturally erodes over time.
"It's not like there is some imminent danger and it would have to be condemned but it's something that we're going to have to be watchful of and hopefully we can make those improvements as we do the rest of this project," Lipton said, emphasizing more than once that there is no danger to fans who sit in the area.
Lipton said there are various other issues that must be addressed at Folsom Field, including deteriorating concrete, aging plumbing and electrical wiring and other deferred maintenance that he said is really a campus-wide problem.
DiStefano, Lipton and Hilliard all said the completion of the feasibility study in September is only a big first step toward actually starting any future project. DiStefano said another phase already underway and scheduled for completion sometime this fall is a 10-year master plan for athletics facilities.
DiStefano told the regents in June that he planned to brief them again in January on the results of the feasibility study and the 10-year plan. It's unlikely any project would be approved at that point. Unless a donor or group of donors comes forward in the near future with a major gift that would all but assure the project moves forward, it will be sometime next year before any project at Folsom Field is approved.
"What I can tell people from interacting with the leadership of the chancellor and Mike Bohn and the cabinet, the regents and the president is we have big aspirations," Hilliard said. "We just have special challenges in meeting them. No one should mistake the challenges for a lack of aspirations or a lack of commitment. The chancellor would not do a presentation in front of the board of regents if he weren't supportive of what Mike Bohn's vision is."