UT Martin officially opens state-of-the-art academic space/press box at Hardy M. Graham Stadium
Contact 1: Bud Grimes
MARTIN, Tenn. – Retired University of Tennessee at Martin athletics director Phil Dane remembers all too well the inadequate press box facilities that greeted fans and game-management staff for decades at Hardy M. Graham Stadium.
This all changed Sept. 17 as the first home football game of the 2016 season provided the perfect opportunity to officially open the university’s new academic classroom space and football press box. Dane joined fans, elected officials, former players, the UT Martin cheerleaders, Captain Skyhawk and others who gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony just outside the building’s west entrance.
The four-story structure, completed by Allen Searcy Builder-Contractor, Inc., of Union City, stands approximately 75 feet tall and contains 20,000 square feet of space, providing a major upgrade to Graham Stadium and a significant addition to the university’s skyline. The ground level includes a renovated visiting team locker room, referee locker room, concession stand and other game-management space, as well as a lobby area and elevator access.
The second level provides academic space for the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences and also serves as an academic support area. The third floor houses the club level, which provides a unique perspective of the game in a climate-controlled space. This level also includes the Chancellor’s Box for entertaining game-day guests.
The top floor houses state-of-the-art facilities for media, coaching staffs and game-management officials. The working media area seats up to 25, which more than doubles the capacity of the former press box.
When discussions about the project began, Dane envisioned a facility that would serve the university’s long-term needs and not simply replace existing space. “But I knew that to do that, we were going to have to come up with some kind of a partnership idea,” Dane said. “So, a lot of the space in this facility can be used for academics, and the administration supported that at the time.”
Architectural renderings that determined the project’s direction were completed in early 2013, but funding issues delayed the project for two football seasons. Work finally began following the 2015 season, and completion came in time for the current season. As noted, other benefits of the new facility include vastly improved game-management space and related technology, as well as improved facilities for entertaining guests and university donors. “So … there was a fundraising dimension, there was a work atmosphere dimension, and then the partnership (with academics) were all things that I think allowed it (the project) to come together,” Dane said.
Chris Brinkley, radio voice of the Skyhawks, led a brief program before the ribbon cutting and recalled the stadium’s history. “From a technological standpoint, this is the present, and this is the future,” he said. “I know when we have ESPN come to Martin, Tennessee, to broadcast a game nationally, even globally for us with the old press box, we would turn the world upside down to provide them with power and all of the capabilities that they needed to broadcast the game.
“Now, they just walk through those doors, and they're ready. And I could not be more excited to do the game today from this building.”
Dr. Bob Smith, UT Martin interim chancellor, recognized many individuals in the audience who supported the project. “And it (the facility) is also a statement about partnerships,” he said, noting the presence of significant academic space and also acknowledging Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum and Martin city Mayor Randy Brundige for the county’s and city’s support of the project. He also highlighted lead gifts for the project from Bill Blankenship, of Memphis, and Betty and Newell Graham, of Union City, and thanked other donors who made gifts that supported the naming of rooms.
Jason Simpson, UT Martin head football coach, thanked supporters, including former UTM football Coach Bob Carroll, whom he acknowledged “for being a pioneer of this program.” He also credited Phil Dane with the vision for making the facility a reality. “This university deserves everything first class. This community deserves everything first class,” Simpson said. “I’m proud today to stand on the sidelines with this behind me.”
Dr. Todd Winters is pleased to have the new academic space provided in the facility. “Our program in the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences has been really busting at the seams, so we really needed some new space,” he said following the ribbon cutting. “And the nice thing about this facility is that it’s between campus and our (university) farm … and students can have classes in the four new classrooms here, and we’re just really looking forward to having a state-of-the-art classroom to actually teach in.”
Tim Barrington, UT Martin public address announcer since 1973, now has a larger space and new technology at his disposal for game day. “Well, you know the whole idea of being able to go into a facility that has all technology that we’ve ever wanted and will need for a long time to come, it’s a great feeling,” he said. “UT Martin deserves it, they really do, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Tim Nipp, director of the university’s Physical Plant, recognized the project’s successful coordination that involved different groups at all levels. “We did a best-value approach to this where we selected three contractors that we felt were qualified to do the work and then got competitive bids for them,” Nipp said. “And then Searcy Construction just came in and put together an excellent team of subcontractors. … And then it was a team effort between the UT System and the architect and the engineers and the Physical Plant here.”
“Well, it’s a great addition to the stadium and to the community. And anything that’s good for UTM is good for the city of Martin,” said Mayor Randy Brundige. “It (the facility) will bring more people here, and we have something great to show off.”
Dane, who was inducted last fall into the UT Martin Athletics Hall of Fame, is justifiably proud of the new academic and press box space, which both supports the university’s teaching mission and its commitment to the student athletes and others who benefit from the football program. And, he will be permanently linked to the facility through the new athletic director’s box named for him, thanks to donor gifts made in his honor. “It’s humbling,” he said of the room naming. “The donors that gave to that are all special people to me.”
PHOTO ID: Preparing to cut the ribbon and officially open the university’s new academic classroom space and football press box were (l to r) Andy Wilson, vice chancellor for university advancement; Dr. Margaret Toston, vice chancellor for student affairs; Jake Bynum, Weakley County mayor; Randy Brundige, Martin city mayor; Bill Blankenship, university donor; Dr. Bob Smith, interim chancellor; Miranda Rutan, UT Martin student and student trustee, UT Board of Trustees; Dr. Jefferson Rogers, UT Martin faculty member and faculty trustee, UT Board of Trustees; Jason Simpson, head football coach; Petra McPhearson, vice chancellor for finance and administration; and Dr. Todd Winters, dean, College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences.