SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The University of Notre Dame announced a $400 million plan Wednesday to expand the school's 84-year-old football stadium, adding thousands of premium seats plus new buildings at the "House that Rockne Built."
The new buildings will house a student center on the west side, the anthropology and psychology departments and a digital media center on the east side and music and sacred music departments on the south side, leaving the side facing Touchdown Jesus unchanged.
The Rev. John Jenkins, the university president, called it "the most ambitious building project in the 172-year history of Notre Dame," saying more space was needed to accommodate the university's broadening research activity.
"What's exciting about this project is it brings together athletics, faculty and academics, research and a student center, so it's an integrated model," Jenkins said.
Athletic director Jack Swarbrick said mixing athletics, student life and classrooms is what Notre Dame should do.
"It's such a powerful symbol given what's going on in college athletics right now, that you can take the stadium and say we believe in the integration of athletics into academics, and here's the living proof of it," he said.
The plans were presented to the university's board of trustees during their meeting Wednesday in Rome. The university announced in May it would conduct a feasibility study.
Jenkins said that the university now must raise the money, and that he didn't know how long that would take. He said construction would begin next year at the earliest and would take nearly three years to complete.
The buildings on the east and west sides will rise nine stories and include premium seating, increasing the capacity of Notre Dame Stadium from 80,795 to more than 84,000, although widening seats on the benches could cut down the number of seats. The press box will also move from the west to the east side.
The south building will be six stories high and include a hospitality area. The student center will include a recreation center and allow the university to turn the existing Rolfs Sports Recreation Center into the practice home for the men's and women's basketball teams.
As for adding video boards for instant replay or switching to an artificial playing surface — two issues that divide fans — Jenkins said there's no decision on that yet. Swarbrick said a decision on the playing surface will be made soon, given that new grass had to be installed three times last season because of repeated problems.
The stadium opened in 1930, when Knute Rockne was coach, and had a capacity of 59,075 until it was expanded in 1997.
The university said the club seating areas could also be used for academic events, classes, conferences and career fairs.
Jenkins said adding buildings to the stadium helps avoid campus sprawl, by adding much-needed space to an area he described as a "crossroads," helping the university maintain a pedestrian campus.
The university has expanded its research efforts in the past decade and recently announced plans to hire 80 faculty in chemical and biomolecular engineering, nanotechnology, analytical chemistry and biochemistry, economics and nuclear physics.
"Our research activity has just really taken off, particularly in science and technology, which require lab space. So there is just more activity in that area that needs space," Jenkins said.
Jenkins said the project shows Notre Dame isn't being complacent.
"We really have a vision to dream big and look at possibilities that haven't yet been realized. I see this as part of that ongoing effort to dream bigger," he said.