Pitt Athletics kicks off wave of renovations


Posters previewing the athletic facility renovations. Photo by Meg Millure

By Meg Millure / Staff Writer

Shiny new uniforms and flashing lights may have diverted attention away from posters bordering the walls at the Pitt script unveiling earlier this month.

The posters featured millions of dollars worth of improvement plans for Pitt’s athletic facilities, some of which have already begun.

The three-year plan to revamp facilities and convert all remnants of the block logo to the new script  — a cleaned-up return to the logo that served as Pitt’s primary athletic logo from 1973 to 1996 — is going to cost about $8-10 million, according to Athletic Director Scott Barnes.

Deputy Athletic Director for Internal Affairs Dan Bartholomae said Pitt’s athletic facilities have lacked cohesion for a number of years.

“[The logo change] was really the reason we initiated this project,” Bartholomae said. “We’ve never really taken a look at all our facilities before and said, ‘Where do we lack branding? Where do we lack aesthetic updates, and how can we make those consistent across all buildings?’”

Renovations include minor alterations to the exterior of the Petersen Events Center and upgrades to the wrestling competition venue at the Fitzgerald Field House. At the crux of every design is the modern Pitt script.

In addition to the three-year plan, the athletic department has set in place a 10-year master plan to improve athletic facilities across the board.

The money for the updates comes partially, but not “directly,” from an increase in ACC funding, according to Bartholomae. Other sources of funding that go into the Department of Athletics’ operating budget come from private donors — though the amount of money Pitt brings in through fundraising is low right now compared to other ACC schools.

One of the most profitable advantages of switching to the ACC from the Big East was the $3.6 billion ESPN contract, which Pitt got a $17 million share of, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In Pitt’s final year in the Big East, Pitt Athletics made almost $38 million in revenue and spent just over $50 million, according to the University’s 2013 financial disclosure report. Last year, Pitt Athletics made more than $57 million in revenue in 2015 but paid more than $64 million in expenses, according to the University’s 2015 financial disclosure report.

Revenue increased from the 2014 to the 2015 financial year due to the ACC switch, according to the report, which also noted that the cost of “ACC events and activities, equipment and technology upgrades and increased financial aid awards,” accounted for higher expenditures.

Not all future improvements were displayed at the Pitt script unveiling.

A $5.3 million renovation to the Cost Sports Center is happening right now, and the University Board of Trustees approved funds for that renovation on May 24, meaning it is not coming out of the Athletic Department’s operating budget.

The renovation includes a new synthetic turf for football and soccer practices, mechanical upgrades and interior renovations at the sports   center.

Barnes has made the branding changes a top priority, along with upping efforts to increase Pitt’s donor participation. An increase in donations would make the branding transition smoother, he said.

With so many changes happening quickly, Pitt Athletics has not lost sight of the long term. The master plan, a decade-long endeavor, is estimated to cost about $50 million, according to Barnes.

“[The master plan]’s the heavy lift down the line. Right now our staff is working very hard on these new smaller projects,” Barnes said.

So what does a rebranded Pitt athletic program look like?

Along with eradicating the block logo, the hydrotherapy room at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex will undergo a makeover, switching to tranquil beige tile complete with a flat screen television.

New basketball practice gyms will feature the new logo and a wall in the Pete will brandish a mural of the Cathedral of Learning.

In the fall, students will see a new LED ribbon board and hardwood floor on the basketball court at the Pete, coupled with a modernized team room and locker room for the swimming team in Trees Hall.

Pitt women’s basketball head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio was involved in the planning for the new basketball facilities.

“I got to sit in on those meetings on what the Petersen Events Center is going to look like and our practice facility,” McConnell-Serio said. “When you look at the details and embracing the tradition of Pitt, I think this is something very special for our programs.”

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