The architects and planners rolled out the astroturf last week in newly renovated Briggs Cage, marking one of the final stages of a decade long. $20 million University effort to upgrade and expand athletics facilities.
The Briggs Cage project and the renovation of the Stadium, which is scheduled to begin nest week, take place as planners enter the last phase of a building program which began after a 1975 Athletic Department study which encompassed three years of surveying Harvard's athletic outlook-recommended that a university that promise, athletics for all ought to construct facilities capable of serving all of its athletes.
And those athletes are plenty. The University was concerned not only about the crowding of men's varsity teams, playing in crumbing long-obsolete structures, but also the unavailability of athletes areas to the ever increasing women's teams, undergraduates participating in intramurals, faculty members, and graduate student.
"Our facilities were the least adequate of any school in the Ivy League." President Bok recalled this week. Harvard also had an unprecedented desire to use the athletic facilities," he added.
John P. Reardon Jr. '60 director of athletics, agreed citing overcrowding of facilities and ever increasing participation in recreation athletics as factors necessitating expansion, "At this University," he said, "whether you sweep floors or teach physics, everyone thinks they're some kind of athlete."
The overcrowding of facilities led the University to form a committee in the mid-70s determine what was necessary to upgrade facilities.
After an extensive study this committee recommended what if called the Program for "Program for Athletic Facilities at Harvard and Radcliffe," a $30 million massive and all encompassing plan for a plush, modern sport, complex at soldiers field planners forcasted new improvements to include a new indoor swimming poll, a new hockey rink: an indoor track and tennis facility, a basketball arena placed in a renovated Watson Hockey rink: new squash courts underground lockerrooms, weightrooms and physical therapy areas connecting these new structures and the upgrading of nearly all the University's existing sports facilities.
Robert B Watson, director of athletics at the time of the new plan, was optimistic about its potential "This planning process has resulted in blueprints for athletic facilities which will be the model in a new era of university athletics throughout the nation," he said.
The athletic department mailed out slick brochures describing the proposed project to donors all over the country but failed in the end to raise the capital to undertake the project on its phases as planned.
"We should have built it all in one go, in my opinion," George Oomen, assistant to the vice president for administration, said this week. "But our financial facilities limited us."
However, the anxious planners did not let the lack of funding halt the project The University in mid-1976 reassessed its needs and priorities and rescheduled the development of facilities to account for budget constraints. Reardon remembers the tough decision that laced the athletic department. "It was a question of do you do without money and hope you'll come out okay, or do you take it in parts?" he said.
In May 1976, the University broke ground and began the first phase of the facilities development including the $4 million Blodgett Pool Complex and the $6.5 million Indoor Track and Tennis facility, which also housed extensive spaces for women's lockers.
The pool which the planning committee placed as its first priority, replaced the old pool at the Indoor Athletic Building which was built in the 20s and was at the time in poor condition and extremely overcrowded during peak swimming hours, forcing swim teams to practice at irregular shifts.
The demands of men's track Coach Bill McCurdy combined with the expertise and experimentation of Thomas A. McMahon, McKay Professor of Applied Mechanics, produced a track that McCurdy claims is the "fastest track in the World" In a feature article, Sports Illustrated praised the new facility, calling it the best of its kind in America. McCurdy had wanted a facility exclusively for track, he said, but limited funds made it "nonsensical to have a track and nothing else, so the old multiple use concept reared its ugly head," he said, and tennis courts were integrated into the facility.