Facility Focus: Illini’s Demirjian Park Head of the Pack
The YouTube video lasts just 96 seconds, but that’s plenty of time for dozens of exciting exultations from the University of Illinois women’s soccer team.
It’s the type of over-the-moon exuberance usually reserved for championship celebrations, but the Fighting Illini didn’t even have a match to play that April day.The source of their adulation was a tour of Demirjian Park, a $27 million project completed this spring that brings world-class soccer and track and field facilities to the Urbana-Champaign campus and allows the school to host NCAA championships.
“I would argue we now have the best facility in the Big 10,” Illinois women’s soccer coach Janet Rayfield said at the unveiling.
A few weeks later, in an interview with Coach & Athletic Director, Senior Associate Director of Athletics Brett Stillwell, who leads capital projects and facilities for the athletic department, felt precisely the same.
The project featured the construction of two new soccer fields, substantial renovations to the existing track oval and the pièce de résistance, Demirjian Stadium, an $18 million multi-use structure that features dual grandstands, home and away locker rooms, video and meeting rooms, lounge and study spaces, sports medicine and nutrition facilities, space for officials and coaches offices. The teams housed there — women’s soccer and men’s and women’s track and field and cross country — make up more than 25 percent of the school’s overall student-athletes.
Conversations with the Demirjian family, who provided a lead gift of $7 million for the project, started with basketball and football, but the family expressed interest in providing funding for other sports, particularly women’s teams, Stillwell said.
Meanwhile, the women’s soccer team was dressing in locker rooms in the administration building, far from their practice and game day fields. Visiting teams used tents and port-a-potties. Similarly, the track and field locker rooms were located in the basement of The Armory, the school’s indoor track facility several blocks away.
“There were no locker rooms or spaces at all that they could utilize at the outdoor track,” Stillwell said. “The soccer program was undeserved, as well. The (game day) field wasn’t in great shape and the practice field was definitely in poor shape.”
The game-day soccer field had previously been inside the track. After its relocation, the oval was expanded to a more traditional sweeping curve with nine lanes and the finish line was strategically placed against the grandstand. As part of the overall $6 million track renovation, field events were moved inside the oval, improving the viewer experience.
“The track itself is one of the best in the nation,” Stillwell said. “It has the same surface that Oregon and Kansas have.”
In between the track and the soccer fields is a Demirjian Stadium, designed for commingling. A large recruiting/player lounge runs its width to promote interaction and collaboration between athletes and teams. With its floor-to-ceiling windows facing both playing surfaces, it will also serve as a space for donor events, athletic meetings, and group gatherings. On game days, it transforms into a VIP lounge.
“It creates a communal gathering. If they’re there for breakfast smoothies and hanging out they’re promoting team camaraderie and they’re present where coaches are,” Stillwell said.
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The coaches’ offices are on the second floor, and downstairs are the locker rooms. Stillwell expects the improved locker room proximity to quickly pay dividends. The third floor features a press box and media broadcast center. There’s also a large classroom/meeting space with a projection system, as well as a smaller conference room, which features a 98-inch flatscreen. The walls glow with prominent orange and Navy blue Illinois-themed signage and graphics.
“We’ve created a home for them,” Stillwell said. “Both programs really didn’t have a home. This provides an identity and a place where they can gather and call their own.”