By Peter Rooney

An artist’s rendition of a renovated Pratt Field and Neuhoff-Lumley Track. The renovation will begin this fall.

Pratt Field, a beacon of small-college athletics tradition and the third oldest NCAA football-playing site in the nation, will undergo an extensive renovation that will also add a new field house, grandstands and a track. The track will allow Amherst to host championship-level meets for the first time since 1996.

“Pratt Field and the field house are long-standing priorities for the athletics department,” says President Biddy Martin. “I am delighted that a generous lead gift and matching donations will enable the college to enhance its facilities, benefiting a number of intercollegiate and club sports without sacrificing our other fundraising needs or using college operating funds.”

The project, recently approved by college trustees, is slated to be complete by fall 2013. Construction of the 15,000-square-foot field house—which will accommodate teams including football and field hockey in the fall and track, lacrosse and softball in the spring—is expected to begin early this fall. The Pratt Field renovation will take place after the fall 2012 football season.

The aim “is to retain the character and appeal of the 121-year-old Pratt Field complex, while at the same time replacing its outdated components, such as the Debevoise Field House,” says athletics director Suzanne Coffey. “We anticipate and expect that people will continue to feel that this is the Pratt Field that they know and love.”

The cost of the renovation—estimated at $12.5 million—will be paid for entirely with donations, the largest being a $6.8 million anonymous lead gift. Seven other major contributors to the project have also chosen to remain anonymous for the time being, says Megan Morey, the college’s chief advancement officer.

Before approving the project, Martin and the trustees set some strict pre­conditions, requiring a donor-funded feasibility study and mandating that the project’s entire estimated cost be raised before construction began—from the fewest donors possible and from those whose interests were limited to Pratt Field and top athletics priorities.“The lead donor also wanted to do it in as short a time as possible,” Morey says.

The project will include slightly shifting the east-west orientation of Pratt Field and Neuhoff-Lumley Track (which will retain their names) to align them with the Hitchcock gates.

The new field will have all-weather artificial turf. There will also be new lighting and restrooms, a new press
box, a brick paved area behind the home grandstands and a low brick wall—suitable for seating—around the north and west sides of the track.

Here are other highlights of the project:

The field and track will be set three and a half feet below the standing grade, creating a bowl effect that will make spectators feel as if they are closer to the play. (The tradition of allowing children and other spectators close proximity to the field will continue—and will be enhanced by the change in elevation.)

The eight-lane, all-weather track will meet the standards of the International Association of Athletics Federations,
allowing Amherst to host championship-level track meets for the first time since bleachers were installed inside the track.

Stadium seating will be outside the track area, with home seating on the north side and visitors’ seating on the south.  Capacity will remain about the same as it is now.

There will be more tailgating space. Tailgating will move to the western end of the field.

On game days, cars will enter from Route 9. The Hitchcock entrance will be for pedestrians only.

The field house will be about the size of a small dorm, such as Garman. It will feature lockers for coaches and referees; a medical facility with exam, taping and treatment rooms; an equipment and laundry room; meeting areas; and an alumni gathering room with windows oriented to offer views of both Gooding and Pratt fields. 

Image by Brailsford & Dunlavey