PITTSBURGH — Pitt will go forward with the first two phases of athletic director Heather Lyke’s Victory Heights athletics facilities plan, she and chancellor Patrick Gallagher announced on Tuesday.
The first two phases of the program-altering facilities scheme will begin construction in the summer of 2021 and include new on-campus competition venues for four of Pitt’s varsity athletics programs and enhanced training and practice facilities for 16 of the 19 programs.
Introducing Victory Heights.
A series of state-of-the-art athletics projects that will provide @Pitt_ATHLETICS student-athletes with national-caliber competition, training and sports performance and medicine facilities.
— University of Pittsburgh (@PittTweet) January 14, 2020
The first two phases have been approved for construction and will cost $250 million, with the university guaranteeing funding while the athletic department fundraises to offset that cost. Lyke said there have been 10 individual donors of at least $100,000 toward the project.
Gallagher said the university needed to guarantee funding for the projects because of the interconnected nature of Victory Heights and several concurrent campus projects, including the installation of a new water chiller plant and a new student recreation center.
“The university is debt-financing the project, which is why we’re going to make the commitment that this is going to happen,” Gallagher said. “I think particularly in the face of failed past promises to do this, it was an important step for us to make this commitment on a timeframe certain do it. … We didn’t think it was fair to put a lot of contingencies on this project because it would have repercussions all over.”
Pitt unveiled the plans without any specific donor gifts or building names, suggesting that significant fundraising opportunities remain to help offset the cost to the athletic department.
“We think the donor base and the fan base of the University of Pittsburgh is going to be really excited about this,” Gallagher said. “This is such a high-impact investment.”
The first phase will involve construction of a new, 3,500-seat arena for gymnastics, volleyball and wrestling that will also include practice facilities for those sports and an attached performance center for all of Pitt’s student athletes outside of the football and basketball programs.
The arena will be construct on the lawn to the east of Petersen Events Center, inside the footprint of the former Pitt stadium. After construction is complete, the open space of the lawn will be restored atop the flat roof of the arena, according to renderings released by Pitt.
The design phase for that project is just getting underway, Lyke said, and construction will begin in the summer of 2021, with a fall 2023 completion date anticipated.
“We have conceptual renderings,” Lyke explained. “[Wednesday], we go into schematic design, which is a much more detailed process.”
Those three teams currently play and practice — along with the track and field team — in the Fitzgerald Field House, which was constructed in 1951.
“For far too long, a significant percentage of our student-athletes have been forced to compete in facilities that do not reflect the lofty standards and aspirations of the University of Pittsburgh,” Lyke said. “Today’s announcement is the first step in transforming that liability into a game-changing asset in our quest for comprehensive excellence.”
Following the construction of the new multi-sport arena, a new complex will be constructed as a home for Pitt’s track and field teams and varsity marching band.
An eight-lane, 300-meter indoor track along with practice facilities and dedicated space for the marching band will be built on the hillside terrace on Robinson Street below the Cost Center, where Pitt’s sports dome currently sits.
Both the track teams and the band have been without their own spaces on campus since the demolition of Pitt stadium in 1999. That building is slated to open sometime in 2024.
The third phase, which Lyke revealed general plans for, includes a new lacrosse stadium to be constructed where the OC parking lot currently sits. Lyke doest not have a timeline for that construction to begin.
That was an addition to Victory Heights from the campus master plan released in 2019. Pitt announced in Nov. 2018 that it will be adding women’s lacrosse for the 2020-21 school year.
Other changes include the location of the indoor track, which was originally slated to be alongside the Cost Center where the OC Garage sits, and the multi-sport arena, which was to be built over the OC parking lot instead.
The first two phases of the project will not effect on-campus parking, though the university is demolishing the O’Hara parking garage to make room for a new student recreation center that will house a relocation of the facilities currently housed in sports dome, Petersen Events Center and the east wing of Trees Hall, freeing up those locations for athletics construction.
Lyke and Gallagher did not have a firm plan for what will happen on the sites of the those two buildings, which will no longer be needed for campus or athletics purposes. The 2019 campus master plan showed a possible multi-sport indoor practice facility going over the footprint of Trees Hall and a parking garage taking part of the site.
The construction project will not expand the boundaries of Pitt’s campus and Gallagher said he did not anticipate significant impact to the neighborhoods surrounding campus.
One part of the project is already underway, as the Petersen Sports Complex is being expanded to include a third floor so that the baseball, softball and soccer teams can move their offices out of Fitzgerald Field House and over to where they practice and play. That is expected to open this summer.