The Rose Bowl champion TCU football team is just over a month away from its first home game at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Two weeks into a grueling August camp, the Horned Frogs have furiously prepared to follow up their 13-0 dream season.
But there is another team hard at work. Construction crews continue at a brisk pace working on the $143 million renovations to the 81-year-old stadium. The entire project remains on schedule for completion before the Sept. 8, 2012, season opener against Grambling State.
But will the partially renovated stadium be ready for this season's Sept. 17 home opener against Louisiana-Monroe?
"If you look out there we have a long ways to go to get ready for that particular game," TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said. "We were probably a little overconfident in that we didn't really take into consideration all the things that go with a live construction zone."
While the progress is noticeable, with the west-side upper deck erected and lighting rigs nearly complete, there is major work left to do in the next 31 days. Seats on the west-side club level need to be installed and the two new scoreboards have yet to materialize. Crews have been installing large speakers on either side of the frame for the scoreboard atop the party deck on the north end zone. The north end zone stands, which include bleacher seating, will be nearly complete, including completed restrooms, except for fully functioning concessions. Fans sitting in that section will get a glimpse of what the completed renovations will look like, said Ross Bailey, TCU associate athletics director for operations.
"They're going to love it," he said.
But Bailey cautions fans that "we are very much a construction zone for 2011 ...I think more than any of us want to realize. It's going to be a challenge."
Part of the challenge is finding room for more than 100 portable toilets and four comfort stations with air conditioning for the west side, which will be without restrooms in 2011.
TCU coach Gary Patterson isn't worried about the progress. The Frogs practiced several times on the stadium field this August as construction crews and cranes worked in the background.
"As long as we have grass, [chalk] lines, headsets and speakers, I'm not worried," Patterson said. "My worry is about getting the best football team I can get."
The top priority for Del Conte is fan safety. Start times for two games have been moved from night to day -- the Sept. 24 Portland State game has been moved from 6 p.m. to 1 p.m., and the SMU game has been moved from 7 p.m. Sept. 30 to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 1.
"I'd prefer to play night games, especially in September, but they weren't applicable this year," Del Conte said. "We want to make sure everyone is safe getting in and out and that we have everything covered."
Fort Worth Fire Department officials toured the construction site Monday, checking the egress for fans on game days. The capacity for the five home games in 2011 is expected to be about 32,000. The Horned Frogs have already sold a record 20,817 season tickets. Single-game tickets for all five home games are on sale. TCU also plays BYU at Cowboys Stadium on Oct. 28. TCU resisted the urge to move its 2011 home games off campus, weakening its home-field advantage. Plus, Bailey said, there were few options.
"North Texas had the perfect setup where they could go across the street to build one," Bailey said of the Denton school's new $78 million Apogee Stadium, which opens Sept. 10. "We just didn't have that option. Cowboys Stadium is incredibly expensive. And we weren't sure our fans would want to drive to the Cotton Bowl more than once."
Closed parking lots to the west and north of the stadium will cause some headaches for fans, an issue Del Conte addressed at several town hall meetings after renovation plans were announced. Except for a few grumblings, Del Conte says "99.9 percent of the people have been fine. They know we're going to have something special in 2012. We knew when we decided we wanted to play [on campus] in 2011 that it was going to be a difficult year."
The temporary press box, set for the middle level of suites on the west side stands, have a long way to go before they look ready for even a workable temporary setting. Crews hope to have coaches boxes ready with temporary walls and drywall ceilings so they'll be afforded the necessary privacy. The temporary media area will likely be open-air this season with little infrastructure inside. When the renovations are complete, the press box will be located in the northwest corner of the stadium.
Said Del Conte: "We have a long ways to go to get this ready to go for '12."
Right now, as workers put in 12-hour days, six days a week, he'll settle for having a smooth opener Sept. 17.