Cajun Field expansion, upgrades on schedule

Louisiana-Lafayette Athletic Director Scott Farmer gave the wood table under his lectern a solid knock Tuesday morning as he addressed media members gathered to see the new-look Cajun Field.

“We’re five days away from the football team reporting and 32 days away from kickoff of the 2014 season,” Farmer said. “So it’s here. I hope you’re ready.”

Yes, the construction is coming along as planned, and the stadium should be ready to go for the Cajuns’ season opener against Southern on Aug. 30, but a little luck couldn’t hurt either. A hair more than a month remains until kickoff. Until that day, the sounds of construction — engines roaring and the high-pitched beep of heavy machinery backing up — will stand in place of a throaty crowd.

The majority of the remaining work is in the south end zone, where workers were installing the remainder of about 6,000 new seats. The additional seating brings Cajun Field’s unofficial capacity to the 38,000 range, which does not include standing-room-only areas and seating on the berm in the north end zone.

The expansion also included additional restrooms and concession areas in the south end zone.

“Both of these will not only be a benefit to the fans in the south area, but will also help alleviate the demands throughout the entire stadium,” Farmer said.

While the expansion was what Farmer called “the project with the largest scope,” several other changes to the stadium will affect a larger portion of the fan base, he said.

The Pride of Acadiana will move from its usual spot near midfield to the southeast corner of the field, opening up two entire sections for season-ticket holders at the 50-yard line while also allowing the band’s music to travel diagonally and reach a larger portion of the stadium. Those season ticket packages are selling for $150, and season ticket holders in sections P and Q will also receive a complimentary chairback for their seats — a handful of which have already been installed.

Cajun Field will also have a new video board, a 30-by-54-foot high-definition screen that Farmer said is three-times the size of the old board. It is already installed above the berm in the north end zone.

“In addition to replays, it’ll allow us to keep our fans informed and entertained with stats, interactive features, and highlight videos,” Farmer said.

The university also worked with AT&T to provide a cell tower, which Farmer said “will significantly increase the wireless signal at Cajun Field,” and built an RV lot behind the north end zone that will fit up to 81 RVs.

Farmer said he’s not concerned about construction causing traffic issues on game days becuase the majority of the unfinished work won’t block roadways. But Farmer did hint some tailgating areas are currently being affected by construction.

“There’s a lot of mud out there, so we’re hoping to get that cleaned up and maybe get some grass down before the first game,” Farmer said.

Getting the project done on time was not without its challenges, many of which were unseen.

“The thing about a project that’s this massive is it’s not just building a building and putting in new seats,” said John Dugas, Associate Athletic Director of Internal Operations. “The entire infrastructure of the building has to be upgraded as well.”

Dugas said major work had to be done on data communications — replacing copper wire with fiber — water, sewage and AC components before work could be completed on the main seating area. The result was a load of mud and dirt from where trenches were dug and updated time constraints for the project’s completion.

“Whenever it involves digging like that and going underground, you never know what you’re going to get,” Dugas said. “Those have taken a little longer than we thought. But as far as the construction in the stadium, the restrooms, the concession stands, the bleachers —we’ve had some roadblocks, but a company like Lemoine knows how to get right through those.”

The Lemoine Company, a Louisiana-based construction contractor, is also familiar with some of the pitfalls of working through Louisiana weather.

“A company like that can get through it without getting so far behind — and if they do get that much farther behind, they can pull two crews and work into the night,” Dugas said. “They even said they can get to the point where they can work around the clock if they have to.”

And if they have to?

“We have pretty good lights in the stadium,” Dugas said.