It was a gorgeous night for a groundbreaking.
That’s what UNH President Mark Huddleston said in the east end zone of Cowell Stadium Friday evening to a group of special friends of UNH who gathered to celebrate a pivotal moment in UNH athletics — construction of a long-awaited new stadium.
Held in conjunction with a UNH Foundation board meeting, the groundbreaking also recognized the donors who made the project possible.
The new stadium will serve as home to the school’s nationally ranked football team and host to a wide range of events from high school football championship games to the Special Olympics and many other events.
“It’s one of the most exciting things that I’ve seen in my eight years here,” Huddleston said. “It’s a culmination of a dream for hundreds, thousands of people. It’s just wonderful to see it come to pass.”
Stadium groundbreaking at UNH
Gordon Simmons (right), president and CEO of longtime UNH Athletics corporate partner Service Credit Union, and Tara and J. Morgan Rutman '84 (second and third from left) joined Huddleston and Scarano for official groundbreaking photographs. J. Morgan Rutman, president of Willoughby Capital Management, is the chair of the UNH Foundation board.
There has been talk of a new stadium for years, even decades.
“It’s been a journey with a lot of stops and starts, but all that’s irrelevant now,” said director of athletics Marty Scarano. “It’s a special collection of people tonight … the people that have been pursuing this for a long time and some of the recent people who jumped on board and made this happen financially. It’s just one of those joyous occasions.”
A couple of years ago, ongoing stadium discussions evolved with the formation of a committee that advanced the idea of a private-public partnership to fund the facility and then set out to raise $5 million in private donations to get the project started.
“I’m very proud of the effort by the committee that said, ‘We’re going to find a way to do this,’” noted Andy Lietz, former chair of the University System of New Hampshire board of trustees. “I’m very proud of the way Marty stuck with this thing over the last 14 years; he could have given up and said this was never going to happen. And we never could have done it without the great coaches and great student athletes we have and the way they perform on and off the field.” Lietz added, “Mark Huddleston, too, deserves a great deal of credit. A lot of people helped make this happen."
Scarano, Lietz and Huddleston called out the lead donors on the project — the Tom Arrix family, Service Credit Union and J. Morgan Rutman ’84 and Tara Rutman, along with scores of other donors.
Huddleston said that, much like the Whittemore Center, the new stadium will be a multipurpose space “for the whole state of New Hampshire,” and it will serve as a gateway to visitors arriving from the west. “It will be a front porch to the university, no question,” Huddleston said.
In addition to the Wildcat football team, the men’s and women’s soccer teams, women’s lacrosse and men’s and women’s track and field teams will practice and compete in the new space.
The new stadium will include a club lounge, a welcome plaza, new concessions, a special student section, the 'Cat Pack Plaza, which will be named in honor of the Rutmans, and other featured areas.
Scarano said he wants the stadium to work for all fans. “The people that want to be in the club lounge and have a special type of environment, they will have that. And we want a family with two kids to be able to come to the game for $50 and have a great Saturday. It’s important we embrace all of that and everybody in the middle.”
Construction is underway, and the stadium is expected to be finished in time for the 2016 football season.
Scarano says the finished product will be eye-opening. “It’s going to be such a great representation of us.”