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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Construction continues, but upgraded stadium ready for Cougars’ home opener

Butch will be back to high-five fans today at Martin Stadium when the Cougars play their home opener against Southern Utah. (Colin Mulvany)
Butch will be back to high-five fans today at Martin Stadium when the Cougars play their home opener against Southern Utah. (Colin Mulvany)

PULLMAN – The RVs pulled into town on Thursday, the customary time of arrival prior to a Washington State home football game.

That much hasn’t changed. But plenty in and around Martin Stadium has transformed since the Cougars last played there in November, signs of WSU’s facilities upgrades nearly everywhere you turn. The Cougars (1-1, 1-0 in Pac-12) host Southern Utah (2-0) at 3:30 p.m. today in their home opener.

The largest of the stadium’s additions – and the most obstructive as far as game days are concerned – is the construction in the stadium’s west end of a $61 million football operations building, which is scheduled to be completed about eight months from now. It began as a large hole in the ground after the demolition of the Hollingbery Annex and the removal of several dozen dump trucks worth of dirt.

It’s since been shaped into a fairly impressive collection of framework, and workers are currently completing the foundation of the fifth (top) floor. A massive crane that required approval from the Federal Aviation Administration still sits in the middle of it all, and will be removed upon completion.

Fans, however, will be temporarily inconvenienced by the presence of construction this season, and not just because the removal of bleachers in the west end zone reduced slightly the stadium’s capacity to 32,740. Because of the scope of the project, the west side of Martin Stadium is closed, meaning no access to Gate I, the gate closest to the northwest corner used by students. The new student entrance will be Gate A, and fans accessing the north side of the stadium are encouraged by WSU to enter through Gates A or B. The south side can be accessed through Gates E, F, G or H.

(The only entrance on the west side that’s even open to players and coaches during practice is a narrow pathway that leads into the seats through the southwest corner of the stadium, but it would be logistically impossible to allow fans access through that area. Cougville will still be held on the available remaining space at Rogers Field.)

Then there are the new, nearly $3.5 million, scoreboards. The old, primary board is gone and a new one has been constructed on the east end of the stadium. Twice the size of the previous scoreboard, this one features an LED display, and is accompanied by a pair of smaller ribbon boards beneath it.

A longer LED ribbon board has also been added to the façade of the premium seating structure on the south side of the stadium. And the sound system, which has been tested frequently throughout the week, will be a noticeable upgrade from the old one.

That much, the fans will enjoy. WSU and coach Mike Leach are focused elsewhere – such as Southern Utah’s running game, and the pursuit of a 2-1 start to the season – though the Cougars say they’re happy to be back at home after two tough games at Auburn and Southern California.

“It’s very exciting, just coming back for our fans. There’s no other feeling than being a Coug,” said senior defensive tackle Ioane Gauta. “We’re excited for this home game.”

Fewer than 3,000 tickets remained for today’s game as of earlier this week.

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