NORMAL —Illinois State University President Timothy Flanagan is thrilled with his timing in switching jobs.
“It’s a wonderful experience being a month into the job and dedicating a $26 million athletic facility,” Flanagan said. “I could get used to this.”
ISU had become used to an aging football stadium. But that changed Wednesday as newly renovated Hancock Stadium was officially dedicated and its new east-side structure celebrated before several hundred people.
“I think it looks very, very nice,” said Redbird football coach Brock Spack, whose team will play its first game in the new facility at 6 p.m. Saturday against Abilene Christian. “It’s a commitment obviously to football, but a commitment by the university to all the students, alums and supporters.”
Those attending the dedication were given a tour of the lower concourse, club area, suites and press level.
According to Larry Lyons, director of athletics, the new Hancock capacity is 13,391 people, including seating available on grass berms. That total includes approximately 5,500 on the east side and 5,800 on the untouched west side.
Lyons remembers talk of renovating Hancock, which was originally dedicated in 1963, going back more than a decade.
“When we first started having drawings about what it should be like, there were drawings from the late ’90s,” Lyons said. “There were discussions back then what we could do. Then we get to the point where it’s this.”
Lyons called the evening “almost a little overwhelming. All the planning that took place … It’s turned out to be such a great building.”
Flanagan was not yet on campus when the former east side featured unsightly metal bleachers.
“The entire university should be proud of it,” said Flanagan. “I’m told we’re replacing what was an eyesore with this great new facility that really represents a welcoming front porch to the campus.
“As you come down Main Street and see this beautiful, iconic building I hope people will say ‘Wow, this is a first-rate university.’ And it is a first-rate university.”
Spack has closely watched construction from the field below and his office in the adjacent Kaufman Football Building.
“I know our players really appreciate it, and our former players are jealous they didn’t get a chance to play in this facility,” Spack said. “I tell them they helped build it. Every man who played college football here can say they had a hand in building it.”
“I’m very excited about the building and what it does for Brock and that football program,” said Lyons. “It’s a statement long overdue for them.”
Flanagan thanked his predecessor, former ISU President Al Bowman, “for his vision.”
Lyons said he received one major directive from Bowman.
“He said, ‘Larry, it better look good,’ ” recalled Lyons. “I think we covered that base.”
Bowman launched the Hancock project in his State of the University Address on Sept. 27, 2011.
It was funded by bond revenue, private gifts and $2.75 million raised by the athletic department.