First steps in athletics facilities improvements to get under way soon

CULLOWHEE — The first steps in a $7.9 million effort to upgrade facilities and improve the intercollegiate athletics program at Western Carolina University are being taken this summer, as the initial round of renovations to E.J. Whitmire Stadium gets under way.

Work scheduled to begin in June includes replacement of artificial turf on Bob Waters Field and construction of a 624-seat grandstand on the visitors’ side of E.J. Whitmire Stadium. Both projects are expected to be complete by the opening of football season in September.

The playing surface on Bob Waters Field, installed in 1987, will be replaced with state-of-the-art artificial turf and subsurface. Cost of the project is $1.1 million. Western is awaiting authorization from the state construction office before awarding a contract for the project, said Andy Comrie, physical plant director.

The first phase of the two-phased stadium expansion project calls for construction of the 624-seat visitors’ grandstand, a concession area and restrooms. Southern Bleachers of Columbia, S.C., has been awarded the contract for the grandstand project, at a cost of $101,000. Contracts for concession and restroom construction will be awarded later this summer, with construction of those support facilities to follow during the year.

Phase II of the stadium project will eventually expand visitor seating capacity to between 3,700 and 4,000 and will include walkways, new lighting and a plaza. Total cost for both phases of the project is estimated at $1.5 million.

The projects are part of a plan approved by Western’s board of trustees in December and approved by The University of North Carolina Board of Governors in March.