It’s been over seven years since UC Riverside’s track and field teams hosted a meet on their own home turf. A worn-out track and hazardous conditions have kept the program from competing on the historic UCR Track Stadium since 2004. During those seven years, numerous attempts were made to restore and remodel the damaged stadium, but only until recently have those plans finally come to fruition. Last spring, construction crews began tearing down the old stadium to make way for the new and improved facility.
Built in 1983, UC Riverside’s previous track stadium was one of the most utilized facilities in the university. Aside from hosting collegiate races, the track was also home to a number of historical events including the National Youth Sports Program and the Special Olympics. As the years went on, a small amount of renovations were made to the weary stadium, but very few were as significant as the one made this past year. A facility that featured a ragged track and tattered benches, the UCR Track Stadium was deemed unworthy of hosting an NCAA meet in 2004. Since that time, UC Riverside’s track and field teams have been forced to schedule every single one of their events on the turfs of their opponents.
“It was very old,” said head coach Irv Ray of the previous stadium. “It was built in 1983 and nothing had really been done to it since then. It had holes and liability issues. It wasn’t a safe environment.”
The tarnished stadium was still used by the track and field teams during practices, however. Even then, a number of student-athletes complained about its poor conditions. Some runners had shin splints and others had to pick pieces of the torn track off their shoes. The renovated stadium was designed to end those problems. The new facility features a strong, unsullied track, new infrastructure and sturdy bleachers for the fans.
When Dr. Timothy White was named UC Riverside’s chancellor in 2008, one of his initial concerns was the status of the facilities in the university. Upon seeing the poor conditions of the old stadium, White took it upon himself to help renovate the facility.
“I’ve been here 10 years and during that time it seems like there has been one financial crisis after another,” recalled Coach Ray. “There just wasn’t any funding. Since I’ve been here, there have been three chancellors. It took Tim a little bit of time, but he was very committed to having good facilitates.”
“I think when Chancellor White got here, every decision he made was about the general students on campus,” added Athletics Director Brian Wickstrom. “When he went out and saw the track, that’s what started it.”
According to Coach Ray, the cost of the new stadium was about $2.3 million. “[The money] came out of the chancellor’s discretionary fund,” he said. “You can’t use tax-funded dollars for any athletic facilities otherwise UCR would be building a huge football stadium or something. You have discretionary money and money that’s funded.”
The new facility has also served other teams on campus. UCR’s soccer, basketball and softball teams have already started holding practices on the newly-constructed stadium. The new facility was also designed with students in mind. On certain hours of the day, UC Riverside students will be allowed to run on a designated lane built inside the stadium to prevent wear and tear on the main track.
“Now we have a track that’s built to NCAA specifications,” said Coach Ray. “We can host the conference championship, it’s a softer, better, resilient track as far as training purposes and it also serves all the events. Before, we weren’t able to do all the events. Now we can do all the events: long jump, pole vault, high jump and all that.”
UC Riverside will officially open the doors of the new stadium on March 10 in a dual meet against UC Santa Barbara. It will be the first time the UCR Track Stadium will host an event in nearly a decade. To add to the excitement, the Highlanders are also scheduled to host the Big West Conference Championships in 2015.