The partial demolition of Fouts Field at the University of North Texas continued this week, as crews began examining the possibility of saving the historic stone panels on the east concourse.
The 25-square-foot panels — some depicting athletes and some eagles — are one of the signature details of the venue and are about 4 inches thick. Crews will cut around the panels and pull them from the rest of the concourse, said Don Lynch, director of the UNT system facilities administration.
“Even if the first one is unsuccessful, it could teach them enough that they could take down the others, so the first one doesn’t necessarily need to be perfect,” Lynch said. “Once we know about the stone panels — if they’re able to be salvaged — it will go very quickly because that’s really the last delicate thing they have to be careful around.”
After the panels are removed, or it is determined they cannot be removed without damage, the crews will begin to demolish the concrete east concourse student section, a process Lynch estimates will take place within the next few weeks. The east concourse is estimated to begin coming down next week, Lynch said.
Crews finished taking down the north-end bleachers this week, a project that began July 2. To remove the bleachers, a crane-type machine grabs on to the rows, pulls them down, and then crews sort the different metals that can be used as scrap. Currently, crews are still sorting the portions of metal, Lynch said.
The process will be repeated for the south-side bleachers once the east concourse is removed, the last major portion of the project, Lynch said.
The metal bleachers were added to the original 20,000-seat venue to expand its capacity to 30,000 before the 1994 season. The expansion helped facilitate UNT’s return to playing at the Division I level in 1995 after spending 12 years as a member of the Division I-AA Southland Conference
The Fouts Field demolition project remains on schedule for an Aug. 26 completion, which will be just in time for student athletes to return to campus, said Eric Capper, senior associate director of athletics.
“It hasn’t affected us at all to this point,” he said. “I think it was well planned in advance to have the project take place when it would be least impactful to the athletics schedule, which is good and is a credit to those that were involved in the planning.”
UNT’s football program moved out of Fouts Field and began playing in Apogee Stadium in 2011.
The school’s track program will continue to use the venue until a new track facility is built near the Mean Green Athletic Center. A new track stadium is in UNT’s master plan.
Both UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal and head track coach Carl Sheffield said this spring they expect to have a new track venue in place within five years.
Sheffield is hoping that he can help UNT secure donations for a new track that would move up the time line for its construction.
The removal of the metal stands is just another step in the slow retirement of Fouts Field, a historic venue that served as the home of UNT’s football program from 1952 to 2010. Some of the greatest moments and eras in UNT history took place at the stadium during that span.
Legendary head coach Hayden Fry coached at UNT during the Fouts Field era and led the Mean Green to 10-1 and 9-2 finishes in the final two years of his tenure at the school from 1973-78.
“Fouts Field will always have a special place in my heart,” Fry said in 2010 before UNT’s final game at the venue. “We filled [the stands] back then when I was there, even though it wasn’t very big.”
A few years earlier, Joe Greene established himself as one of the greatest players in college football history. Greene played for UNT from 1966 until 1968, when he was a consensus first-team All-American.
Greene helped lead UNT to the Missouri Valley Conference title in 1966 and 1967, when the Mean Green won all 11 games it played at Fouts Field.
“When I came in back in 1965 as a freshman, Fouts Field was only 14 or 15 years old,” Greene said. “It wasn’t too bad.”
UNT had begun to lay the groundwork to replace Fouts Field during what is considered to be the last great era in the venue’s history in the early 2000s, when the Mean Green won four straight Sun Belt Conference titles from 2001-04.
Fouts Field had begun to deteriorate at that point and is now in the midst of a slow retirement, one that has brought back memories for several UNT players, including Ken Bahnsen.
The former UNT running back and coach scored the first touchdown at Fouts in 1952 and scored a ceremonial final touchdown the night the Mean Green faced Kansas State in the final football game at the venue in 2010.
“We played on an old field by the music building my first year before moving to Fouts Field,” Bahnsen said. “We thought we had moved to Notre Dame.”
UNT continued the process of moving out this week, when work crews tried to ensure the school will have the stone panels facades to remember the history of Fouts Field, and the players and coaches who were a part of it.
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.