DURHAM - The University of New Hampshire will begin raising money in the hopes of opening a new $25 million athletic complex by the end of next year.
The complex, to be named West Stadium, will include a football stadium with more than 10,000 seats, including the 6,500 seats now at Cowell Stadium, which is nearly 70 years old.
Pamela Diamantis, chairman of the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees, said the stadium project is the latest in a series of improvements at the school designed to attract and retain students.
"This is really part of a master plan and helps the trustees understand how one decision supports the broader vision," Diamantis said. "In the end, every project needs to come together in a vision to strengthen the institution."
"These initial steps are exciting for not only our students but for the greater Durham community and the state," UNH President Mark Huddleston said in a statement. "A new athletic complex will help us build spirit and pride in the state's flagship public university and directly benefit the local economy."
The seating at Cowell Stadium will become visitors' seating, while new stands will be the home seating, said Erika Mantz, the university's spokesman.
The university plans to raise $5 million in contributions and will use $20 million in university savings to pay for the project, Mantz said in an email.
"The university has reserves, similar to a savings account, that it borrows against for strategic investments, such as this one. Using internal borrowing means that we can make good use of our savings to benefit our students and other constituents, as well as ensures the savings are replenished. We do not expect the project to impact tuition," she wrote.
UNH Athletic Director Marty Scarano said in a statement that the project will allow the university "to host more state, regional and national competitions and events like Special Olympics, concerts and high school championship games."
"Any time we can expand the use of a state asset, it's a win-win," Diamantis said.
The project will begin only if the school raises $5 million in donations and the final project cost is no more than $25 million, according to a statement released by the school on Friday afternoon.
The new stadium will also feature "state-of-the art broadcast and Wi-Fi capability, concessions, restrooms and a special student section," the statement said.
Plans for a new athletic complex were reviewed with the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees at its meeting Jan. 30, and the university will make a more detailed request at the April meeting, according to the statement.
The stadium is the latest university building to undergo a makeover. McConnell Hall is undergoing a $10 million renovation to upgrade classrooms and house the university's sociology and psychology departments, and the Peter T. Paul College of Business opened a new $50 million building last year. Those buildings were funded by a combination of donations, state funding and internal borrowing, Mantz said.
Other academic buildings recently renovated include Parsons, James and DeMeritt halls, all academic buildings whose renovations, totaling more than $100 million, were largely funded by the state, Mantz said.
Mantz said about 750 students attend most football games, but that attendance can swell to more than 7,000 for homecoming games.
Word of the proposed new athletic complex was getting around among the school's football players after Friday's announcement.
Cam Shorey of Calais, Maine, on Saturday afternoon said his father sent him a link to the story on the school's website about the stadium, and he and his teammates were talking about the news on Friday night.
"It was big talk last night," he said. "Everyone's excited about it. It helps in recruiting, too. There are recruits here this weekend, and they're going to be hearing about it and be excited, too.
"I saw the pictures and read about the plans, and it looks greater than I expected, honestly," he said. "I was hoping for renovations or something during my time here. To get a new stadium completely is awesome and beyond my expectations."
Julian Turner, a defensive tackle who will be a junior next season, said he hopes to catch one season in it. He had not heard the news about the stadium until asked about it Saturday afternoon at a UNH gymnastics meet in Lundholm Gymnasium.
"That's real nice," he said. "I'm definitely excited about it."
There have been discussions about a new football and multi-use facility at the school for more than a decade.
"Some of the guys were talking about earlier classes that had heard plans, and nothing ever came through from it," Shorey said. "They (school officials) seem pretty confident about this. I'm looking forward to it."
A new stadium will not affect a previously announced project this spring and summer that will add lights to Cowell Stadium and renovate seating on the east side of the facility, which is currently the home side.
Shorey, a defensive end, has three years of eligibility remaining and figures he will get to play at least one season in the facility.
It might mean coming up with a new nickname for the outdated Cowell Stadium, which players affectionately refer to as "The Dungeon."
"The Dungeon is The Dungeon," Turner said. "I like it, but it could be better. If they make it a little better looking than The Dungeon, that will be even better."
email@example.com. Allen Lessels contributed to this story.