Climb to the top row of bleachers, grab a seat in the middle of Hayward Field’s iconic East Grandstand and take in the panoramic view of the most popular track and field venue in the United States.
Out of the elements and with sight lines of the track, finish line, infield and scoreboard, it’s no wonder this was the perch where legendary Oregon coach Bill Bowerman preferred to watch his athletes compete and practice.
But views also can be deceiving.
The East Grandstand is rotting. From the mushy ends of the beams helping support the leaky roof, to the decaying siding on the north and south ends, to the plywood patches on the floor and sideboards between bleacher rows, to the cracking seats and uneven stairs, there is very little about the structure not in need of some sort of major repair.
“It’s a 90-year-old building and most of the issues are related to water intrusion,” said Jim Petsche, the project manager for the Hayward Field rebuild project expected to begin this summer that will transform the venue into a state-of-the-art facility. “We love the look, I think it’s great, but the years have taken a toll on it.”
The fate of the East Grandstand, and possibly the project itself, will be up for discussion Wednesday during a work session by the Eugene City Council, which will consider a Historic City Landmark designation for the East Grandstand. The issue comes as school officials worry about further delays to a timeline for construction of the privately funded, 12,900-seat stadium that will require the complete teardown of all existing structures.
Not only does Hayward Field have to be ready to host the IAAF World Outdoor Track & Field Championships in 2021, including an ability to expand its capacity temporarily to 30,000, but Eugene is also submitting a bid to host the 2020 U.S.Olympic Track & Field Trials.
Saving the East Grandstand from demolition won’t solve its myriad issues, said Petsche, who gave The Register-Guard a tour of the aging facility Friday before the Oregon Twilight meet.
“The building is not falling down and frankly it can be fixed,” Petsche said. “But it’s not about that. You’re not looking at the whole holistic thing.”
Beyond the structural repairs, which Petsche said were estimated to cost $7 million in 2016, the East Grandstand is covered in multiple layers of lead paint, isn’t compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act or modern seismic safety standards, and lacks standard arena amenities such as concessions and updated restroom facilities.
Then there is the seating itself. The bleachers are essentially rows of 2x10-inch boards with 18 inches between seat designations and 28 inches of room between the back of one row to the back of the next row.
The seat pitch will be 44 inches in the new stadium with 24-inch individual seats.
“We see these people, and they’re well-intentioned people, that are going, ‘You gotta save that thing,’” Petsche said. “It’s an iconic structure, there’s no question. … The building team struggled with it, because we all get that empathy related to the building and the history of the place. But in the end we said it doesn’t match with where we want to go.”
The East Grandstand isn’t the only part of Hayward Field in need of immediate replacing, Petsche said.
Underneath the 43-year-old West Grandstand is the indoor practice facility for the Oregon track and field team, which has won 12 national championships in indoor and outdoor track and cross country under sixth-year coach Robert Johnson.
That success has come despite training facilities that are vastly subpar compared to other sports at the university, said Jill Steele, the assistant athletic director for track and field operations.
Among the issues are a weight room that comes with buckets to catch drips from the leaky roof, a water treadmill only accessible by climbing six feet up using a flipped two-gallon bucket and a plyo-box for steps, and a well-worn, seven-lane practice track that’s just 60 meters long, forcing sprinters to crash into a padded wall to help them stop.
The facility also is too small for the 82 combined members of the men’s and women’s teams to practice at the same time.
“Track is an individual sport but it’s also a team sport,” Steele said. “If you’re never together, how are you a team? The kids don’t know each other's names because they’re never together. That’s really, really important to Robert.”
Change is coming with the remodel.
The team will get new indoor practice facilities on the west end of Hayward Field that includes 140-meter lanes with a turn, a separate floor for the jumps and pole vault, a training room, team room, locker rooms, and a medical and recovery area. There also will be roughly 500 meters of covered concourse to keep the distance runners dry on rainy practice days.
No longer will the team have to gather, stretch and get treatment in the lobby of the publicly accessible Bowerman Building, and with a new equipment room, the athletes no longer will be asked to wash their own uniforms at home.
“It’s kind of like a rebirth,” Petsche said. “At some point, you need to let go and have a rebirth and let the next generations of buildings and people come along and have a different path.”