Cold rain fell while Matthew Dates made his way through the muddy construction site, iPad in hand and wearing a hard hat, a reflective vest - and his Virginia Tech ring. Every few minutes, he stopped to take a picture or to chat with a member of the construction crew.
It was one of his twice-monthly visits to Virginia Tech’s English Field at Union Park, Rector Field House and the James Weaver Baseball Center, three athletic facilities in the midst of significant transformation.
Every two weeks, Dates boards a plane in Buffalo, New York, his home, for the approximately 342-mile flight to Roanoke, Virginia. He has been traveling to Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus since last year, when his company, CannonDesign, landed the jobs.
The trip is worth it, said Dates, a Virginia Tech alumnus who earned bachelor’s degrees in architecture and civil engineering in 1995 and a master’s in structural engineering the next year.
“Once you’re away from it [Virginia Tech], you have more appreciation for what it means to come back and what it means to make a mark,” said Dates, a vice president at CannonDesign and design project manager for the company’s Virginia Tech work.
Dates is one of at least a dozen Virginia Tech alumni, from architects to project engineers, who are working on construction and renovations of these three athletic facilities.
And though it’s not unusual to find Hokie alumni working throughout campus, it’s especially important to have them heading up construction on a highly visible area that will serve as a new gateway from U.S. 460 and Southgate Drive into the university.
The athletic buildings are the first structures visible from this new entrance, and the renovations will make the south entrance more attractive, said Tom Gabbard, senior associate athletic director for facilities and operations at Virginia Tech.
The advantage of hiring alumni for this kind of university work is that typically, it is easy to sell them on Virginia Tech’s vision for a project.
“They know exactly what you are talking about,” Gabbard said. “They lived it.”
Headlining the athletic projects is English Field at Union Park. By the first baseball game next year, the stadium will have a new, redesigned entrance that includes an archway and a mid-level wall, made with Hokie stone design features. There will be a new view from the baseball field.
Also, a reconstructed seating area will be moved closer to home plate. There will be a new club area built behind the first base dugout, a press box, stadium suites, enhanced concessions and restrooms, and television and radio facilities.
The stadium will help Virginia Tech compete at a higher level in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Gabbard said.
“If you want to play in the top baseball conference, you need to have a facility to recruit,” he said.
Adjacent to the stadium, a clubhouse renovation is underway on the ground floor of the James Weaver Baseball Center. The space, previously used for storage, will be remodeled with team locker rooms, a laundry area, a team lounge, and equipment and video rooms.
Construction management company Whiting-Turner is leading work on the baseball stadium and baseball center.
Beside the baseball center, Rector Field House, home of the indoor track, will feature an indoor throws area for shot put and weight throw events.
Other renovations at Rector include the addition of a north wing with a larger athletic training room and two halftime rooms for soccer and lacrosse teams. Crews also are building a new indoor softball batting facility on the side of Rector adjacent to the Tech Softball Park.
Jordan Ramsey spends his days walking through Rector, managing contractors as assistant superintendent for Roanoke-based Branch and Associates, the construction management firm for the field house.
Although he graduated from Virginia Tech in 2008 and lives in Christiansburg, Ramsey said he does a double take each day when he drives to the construction site on Beamer Way.
“I get to see Lane Stadium every day,” said Ramsey, an avid Hokie football fan. “That’s pretty cool.”
Ramsey earned a degree in interdisciplinary studies at Virginia Tech, with concentrations in building construction and philosophy. Before Branch, he worked on several other campus projects, including renovations to Ambler Johnston Hall and the football locker room, for Barton Malow, a construction company in Charlottesville.
Ramsey finds construction work rewarding, particularly at his alma mater. “You get to see something from start to finish,” he said.
Virginia Tech’s well-known programs in engineering and architecture draw many alumni of those colleges to work on campus construction projects, said Todd Shelton, a 1983 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Alumni of the Pamplin College of Business also are involved with construction at these three athletic facilities. Shelton is project manager for the university’s capital construction and renovations office and for the Rector and English Field work.
Take Kevin Jones, former NFL running back and Virginia Tech football star, who had a hand in the new design of English Field. In its early phases, Jones drafted some of the university’s suggested designs for the stadium while he was an assistant athletic director for special projects and design. Jones has a bachelor’s degree in industrial design, and now he runs his own design business in Blacksburg, Joba Design.
“I love the interaction between sports and design,” Jones said.
On the work site, Hokie spirit is strong among alumni. “They all have the same kind of love for the university,” Dates said.
When Dates started his career, he never expected that he would one day manage projects from design through construction. He worked as a structural engineer before becoming a project manager.
“The [Virginia Tech] education that I received made me comfortable to jump into a multidisciplinary role,” said Dates, who also played saxophone for one year with the Marching Virginians, one of the university’s marching bands.
Ultimately, his work in Blacksburg has a deeper meaning for him.
“Virginia Tech was my home, and it is still a big part of my life,” said Dates, who attends many football games and hopes his two children one day will become Hokies. “There are different ways to give back to the university. Virginia Tech gave me the skills to do this.”
Written by Jenny Boone