Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Home Improvement

Sir Winston Churchill once said, "We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us." Such is the case as generations of Georgetown alumni walk with pride amongst the welcoming paths that have followed visitors to its Hilltop for generations. George Washington once stood here, Lincoln, over there. Jim Thorpe played football on what is now Copley Lawn, and Bill Clinton had a beer in that corner of The Tombs just like thousands have since.

We value space at Georgetown because there is a limited supply of it. In the last decade, it has taken--and improved--underperforming spaces and made each something which will endure for the generations to come--a performing arts center, a quadrangle of dormitories, a dining hall, a business school, a science facility. 

The same cannot be said for its athletic field, which has atrophied amidst the crosswinds of changing priorities, institutional indifference, and benign neglect. 

Fourteen years ago, Georgetown announced plans for a home stadium for Georgetown football. Seven years ago this weekend, it opened a temporary facility on its grounds with the understanding that it would be completed in a short while. In the interim, virtually nothing has changed since Brown University became the first Ivy League team to play a game on Georgetown’s campus. It is a monument to inaction.

But this column is not to retell that story. It is to tell another story, about giving the field and its environs the "spring cleaning" it needs to serve the next generation of Georgetown students, who neither know nor care about the internecine politics of the whole thing but want a safe, scenic, and sensible place to watch and play a game. 

We can do this. And we can do it soon.

It is time to redevelop the MSF footprint. 

Before you discuss the field. or the seating,  start with the fence. The 2005 construction project started--and stopped--after just 40 yards of fencing along the south side of the facility. The rest has been irregularly covered with chain link fencing better suited to a construction site. The place does not even have the permanent flagpole envisioned and approved by Hoyas Unlimited over a decade ago, well before the MSF even opened, to be dedicated in honor of Georgetown alumni lost on 9/11/2001.

Likewise, the concept of any landscaping or amenities were not a priority on opening day. Yet, the construction gravel and dug-out sand that was around for its debut is, in many cases still there. The construction sites of recent years that grew up around the MSF have come and gone. But the construction site that is the MSF still has the look that you might need a hard hat to go within its borders.

The footprint is now entirely surrounded--the Southwest Quad, the Yates access road, the Hariri and Regents Halls, Harbin. Is it now time to give three sides of the property the same fencing that one side enjoys, and to provide some level of basic landscaping so as to give the field (and its guests) a better sense of place? 

Georgetown didn’t build the Southwest  Quad and let the gravel sit untended. It didn’t build the business and science centers without the thought to provide some basic scenery around it. It didn’t build the Davis Performing Arts Center and left piles of sand laying around.

It is time for a conversation  to replace the field. 

Not the location, but the surface. The lifespan of a Field Turf installation is 8-10 years, according to its web site, with the caveat of "under normal conditions". Conditions at Georgetown are anything but normal for a sports facility, with use seven days a week, up to 16 hours daily. Many colleges use their in-game Field Turf maybe 16 hours a month, not 16 hours a day. 

Either way you slice it, the turf at MSF is reaching the end of its useful life. Before Georgetown makes the same mistake it did with the tattered Kehoe Field turf, it’s time to discuss a turf replacement in 2014.

It is time for a conversation to replace the MSF seating. 

In its online promotional  materials, the company that installed the 2005 seating at MSF stated that Georgetown : "initially thought that their need would be for a two season rental of our [seating]." Well, two years is now seven, going on eight. 

The materials are worn, the plastic seats are showing the effects of age and weather, and the odd configuration of seating when the MSF was constructed (seats were only installed from the 10 yard line to the opposite 40) wastes a lot of space and does not serve the long term interests of a fan-friendly and accommodating seating area. 

Reluctantly, it is unlikely that Georgetown is ready for the physical commitment to install permanent seating. However, that does not preclude the need for a second round of seating. This past spring, a private gift funded a renovation of North Kehoe Field that installed modern, through temporary, seating across the field of play, not across half of it:

If North Kehoe is an example, this is what is needed on, at the least, the west side of the MSF--80 yards of seating from the 10 to the 10, which can safely and comfortably accommodate students, parents, visitors and fans without them crawling over each other as is often the case in the current configuration. This would also increase seating from roughly 1,600 on the current west side to as many as 2,500.

Ideally, a similar effort would be undertaken to provide seating on the east side for visitors--a 5,000 seat stadium capable of welcoming Ivy and PL schools who do not feel like they are seating on wooden timbers to watch a game. Realistically, the funds may not be there for both sides, which suggests that the existing west side could be repurposed to the east side, with some of  the wooden seats moved to the undeveloped area in the north end zone where students could walk down from the Hariri and Regents buildings to watch activities on the field without formal admission.

Yes, this takes money, and the results are at best temporary. The North Kehoe expansion cost $750,000, according to But with a two year seating solution at MSF now entering its eighth year of service, it’s time to recognize that it’s at the end of the life cycle as well, and a new round of seating to accommodate the growing population of fans in the MSF’s primary activities of football and lacrosse is in order, if only to extend the current lifespan of the place for  another 5-7 years.

It is time to discuss a name for the facility. 

The name "Multi Sport Facility" (and its progeny, Multi-Sport Field) are redolent of an earlier era in Georgetown athletics where this would be the centerpiece of the athletic community at Georgetown; it was even hailed in print as the most important project in the history of Georgetown Athletics.

It isn’t anymore.

For whatever reason you choose (and there are many), the MSF was left by the wayside as other projects took precedent. Now, with the as-yet unnamed Intercollegiate Athletics Center (or as I would call it, with a few million dollars, the "John R. Thompson, Jr. Center for Intercollegiate Excellence") being the stated priority for Athletics, the need for the MSF to be the flagship facility is no longer applicable.

Nor is its name--the field only serves football and lacrosse. "Multi-Sport"? Yes, in a technical sense, but it is no longer being constructed for the wide range of activities planned for with the IAC. 

Georgetown University has a poor track record when it comes to naming buildings with any shred of creativity. For the first 100 years of its existence, its major buildings were merely named "North" and "South". Its striking landmark, the Healy Building, was originally named the "New Building" for its first 10 years, then called the "Century Building" when someone realized it wasn’t very new anymore. Sometime after 1912, someone thought to name it after a former college president who labored to find donors willing to finish the project.

"There is a good deal more to be done yet," wrote Patrick Healy, S.J. in 1879. "Oh, for the money to do it!" 

In recent years, it decided not to name its new apartment complex "Carrollton" in 1979 with hopes of a generous naming donor; today, forlorn Village A is waiting for a name after 33 years, while Village C, another placeholder name, now approaches its third decade without a title of its own. 

Neither names nor buildings, are eternal, even at Georgetown. Names like the Foreign Service Annex, Collier Hall, and the Ryan Administration Building now reside in a dusty corner of the Archives. If you have even heard of O’Gara Hall, chances are your kids haven’t got a clue what you are talking about.

Ideally, if a company would sponsor a name for the field for five or ten years, but Georgetown’s pursuits for corporate generosity likely start and stop with the IAC. Is it time to discuss a honor to name this field after one of its own? Calling the facility by a new name--"Rienzo Field", "Urick Park", the "Class of 1965 Stadium", et al.-- is eminently more useful that the awkward placeholder of Multi-Sport Field and lends some permanence to it. It doesn’t mean it will always be called thusly, but it’s an opportunity to honor some giants in Georgetown University while it is still appropriate to do so. 

It is time to plan the next generation of facility for football and lacrosse. 

Each of the topics discussed above are, at their core, temporary. I fully realize, understand, and concur that in the present campaign, the MSF is neither a priority nor something someone in McDonough wants to tackle. It’s all about the IAC until the doors open, and even after that. If any permanent plans are envisioned for an outdoor field, they would only start after the end of the current capital campaign in 2016 and, just as likely, a few years after that. 

If we begin to engage in a  dialogue about what can be done now to get another seven or eight years of passable service out of what GU has right now, we can then begin to provide the framework for Georgetown to commit to getting something built in our lifetimes--in the next decade. The present capital campaign will have concluded, a new campaign will be in the quiet phase, and barring the wholesale construction of a new campus in Southeast, the only likely facility project left on the Hilltop will be a renovation of Lauinger Library, which by that time will be a half-century old. Nothing will be in the way (figuratively or literally) from a permanent stadium that suits the contemporary needs of the campus.

But back to what can be done now. Fencing, landscaping, turf replacement, seating--when does all this get done when there are so many entities using the field? 

A suggestion. 

The last home football game of the 2013 season is Nov. 2--a little early, but a optimal time to close the MSF and begin its retrofitting so there are not, as was in 2005, construction workers bolting in bleachers the day of the first game. Lacrosse could play on North Kehoe for the 2014 season, and the new field (name TBA) opens in the fall of 2014 during the 50th anniversary of football, a season which includes the 75th Homecoming Game that season against (what should be) Harvard, in the Crimson’s first appearance ever in Washington. With so many alumni expected to return for the event, why not have a decent place to put them all, now to mention the question, where do all those Harvard folks plan to sit?

But let’s not wait until 2014 to talk about it.