University of Hawaii campus facility will be ready for Rainbow Warrior football in August

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Stephen Tsai, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
·6 min read
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May 2—The thing about dream homes is they require assembly.

With parts from Asia and across the mainland that still needed to be pieced together here, University of Hawaii athletic director David Matlin expressed confidence that work will be completed by mid-to-late August for Division I football games to be played on the Manoa campus this coming season.

"For what we need to get done for the'21 edition of the Rainbow Warriors, we are tracking on schedule right now, " Matlin said.

He also said statewide conditions are trending toward allowing about 9, 000 fans to attend home games.

"That's part of the reason we moved, so we could have fans, " Matlin said, referencing a decision to relocate home games from Aloha Stadium to the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex on the lower Manoa campus. "I'm optimistic there will be fans for our sports in the fall.

"That being said, we're going to have to follow City &County guidelines and where we are at the time with COVID-19. Obviously that's what we're planning for. I think we're heading in a positive direction with the vaccine for fans in the stands this fall."

In December, Aloha Stadium officials announced they no longer would book events with spectators because of structural concerns at the 45-year-old faci ­lity. After exploring several options, school officials chose to retrofit Ching field to accommodate the Warriors' home games until a replacement for Aloha Stadium is built.

In the most wishful scenario, the new stadium on the Halawa site would be constructed in time for the 2024 season.

UH moved quickly to retrofit Ching, receiving approval to expand seating capacity to up to 10, 000 from approximately 3, 000. Because of the available space and financial constraints, the plan is to increase Ching's seating to about 9, 000 this year, then seek zoning approval to boost capacity to 15, 000 or more next year.

Matlin said even if the pandemic does not ease in the coming months, extending the exclusion of fans at UH home games this fall, the Warriors will not play in an empty Aloha Stadium. A detailed analysis showed it would be more affordable to play without fans at Ching field than at Aloha Stadium.

Matlin said a renovated Ching field will be a permanent fixture, with possible use for the Hawaii Bowl, Hula Bowl, high school graduations and student events such as movie nights. It has not been determined if recruiting regulations would prevent high school games from being played on a Division I campus.

Matlin said a ticketing plan probably will be announced in a month.

"We're waiting to get the final manifest on the number of seats, " Matlin said. "Once you know the number of seats, you can come up with a firm plan. It's going to be a challenge. If it's 9, 000, that doesn't accommodate all your season-ticket holders. We're trying to come up with a plan to be as inclusive as possible. And then part of the expansion next year to be more inclusive and hopefully cover all those folks."

In 2019, the Warriors sold between 12, 000 and 13, 000 season tickets. That figure does not include tickets reserved for visiting teams and corporate partners.

As part of student-activities fees, UH is required to reserve up to 10 % of seating capacity for students. When fans were restricted from attending games last year, there were subscribers who decided to roll over their season-ticket payments to this year rather than donate the money or seek a refund.

For now, the focus has been on Ching's transformation. A week ago, installation began on the new artificial turf.

The 1, 300-seat grandstand on the makai side was moved to behind the Ewa end zone. "It took some time, " Matlin said. "They took it down, then put it up, and now they're kind of fastening it together."

On the vacated makai side, new grandstands and luxury suites will be installed. On the Diamond Head side, there will be a new structure of 2, 300 seats.

Bench seating will be placed on top of the concrete slabs of the Ching complex on the mauka side. There is an announcer's box on the top level of that complex. Plans call for construction of three booths on each side that will be used for local and visiting broadcasters, print media and statisticians.

The grandstands, luxury suites and booths are being prefabricated on the mainland. "Some containers can start rolling in in another month or so, " Matlin said. "The grandstands are kind of modular. They kind of built them like an Erector Set."

After reviewing cost options, UH decided to buy the stands instead of renting them for about $1.5 million per year.

"You're actually saving money by buying them over a three-year period, " Matlin said. "To rent, you're talking $4.5 million for three years. And that's probably for renting less seats than now. What we're doing is getting more seats this way, and it's frankly costing us less."

A two-sided video scoreboard also will be installed on the Ewa side. The board can be viewed from the stands and from the area leading from the parking structure.

Matlin said there will not be tailgating in UH's parking lots this year. But there will be food and merchandise booths on the concourse on the makai side. UH is looking into setting up a controlled area for pregame activities for fans.

Bathrooms will be available in the athletic complex, the Ching building, outside Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium and in Les Murakami Stadium. Portable stalls also will be available.

Matlin said visiting teams likely will use the existing locker rooms on the lower campus.

For this season, no off-campus parking areas will be arranged. "If we're going to be under 10, 000, Stan Sheriff Center has 10, 000 ... and we feel we're equipped to handle that, " Matlin said. Next year, alternate parking sites could be set up at Kapiolani Community College, with shuttle service.

Matlin said no other UH events will be held on the same day as home football games.

Unless changes are needed to accommodate national television scheduling, UH home games will kick off at 6 :05 p.m. Matlin said NCAA-approved LED lights were installed at Ching a few years ago.

The retrofit project is expected to cost about $8 million. A fundraising drive, which received a boost from the Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation's $1.5 million donation, will help offset expenses. Some funding will come from repair-and-maintenance funds.

"A lot will have to be raised or through other means, " Matlin said.

He added : "We're excited with the opportunity to play on campus and make new traditions for our student-athletes, university and our fans. It has been a whirlwind, and I am so appreciative of the university, athletic department and community support."—For more Hawaii football, visit the.