HONOLULU — Work to further expand the University of Hawaii’s Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex to more than 15,000 seats for the 2023 football season will officially begin in the coming days.
However, while some preliminary work for the $30 million project is already underway, the heavy lifting — the importing and installation of more metal bleachers and Aloha Stadium’s video scoreboard — will not take place until March or April, UH Athletic Director David Matlin recently told Spectrum News.
“The target is to get it done by August,” said Matlin, who added that supply chain issues still exist. “We’re on target right now; we’re starting to get going. Cautiously optimistic we’ll get it done in time for the first game.”
UH’s first home game of 2023 is Sept. 1 against Stanford of the Pac-12 Conference. Timmy Chang will open his second season as head coach the week before, at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn.
The Rainbow Warriors plan to hold their 15 spring football practices earlier than usual, beginning in February and ending in March, before the major work on the Ching Complex begins.
Additional seating will be installed in the end zones and in the corners of the stadium to raise the capacity from 9,346.
Instead of being erected within the perimeter of the Ching Complex, the 75-foot-wide Aloha Stadium scoreboard will now go atop Les Murakami Stadium, above the Ewa-facing Grand Slam Club, Matlin said; crews will have to work around the 2023 UH baseball schedule during installation.
In the meantime, there is prep work to do and measurements to confirm on the grounds, he said.
At some point yet to be determined, excavation work will begin to level the two-tiered Cooke Field in advance of construction of a venue for the UH soccer and track and field teams. The Ewa bleachers in the Ching Complex will be brought over to seat about 1,200 at Cooke.
After Aloha Stadium was shut down in December 2020, UH executed an expedited expansion of the Ching Complex from about 4,000 seats to more than double that for the 2021 season. The 2022 season was the first full UH home slate in which full crowds were welcomed in the pandemic era; it distributed all 9,346 tickets for four of seven home games.
Some 6,600 tickets were distributed for the EasyPost Hawaii Bowl between San Diego State and Middle Tennessee on Christmas Eve — the first time the game went off in three years due to pandemic cancellations — with the actual crowd perhaps half that.
But both teams said afterward they enjoyed the bowl experience. SDSU had five local players on its roster, plus a local staff member, and MTSU, while bringing just a few hundred fans, won the back-and-forth game, 25-23, on a late field goal.
The previous year’s edition of the game between Memphis and Hawaii, the first planned bowl game at the Ching Complex, was canceled less than 24 hours before the game.
The Mountain West’s outgoing commissioner, Craig Thompson, took in the SDSU-MTSU from the sideline near the Ewa end zone just a few days before he passed off leadership to Gloria Nevarez.
“You know, it’s fine. It’s a serviceable venue, the playing field is nice,” Thompson told Spectrum News. “Everybody’s excited about the new stadium sometime in the not-too-distant future. But this is a very serviceable facility, and it works well for Hawaii.”
For UH, hosting the ESPN-televised game was similar to putting on one of its home games at Ching, Matlin said, in terms of staff demand and logistics like bringing in portable toilets.
“What I heard from a lot of people watching on TV, they said the field showed really well,” Matlin said. “We had a lot of good feedback. ESPN was happy with it. I think operationally it went well. ESPN’s good partners; I obviously worked with them for a long time. I was really happy with it and I thought it was a good, competitive game. They’ll like it when we have more seats next year, too, and the scoreboard.”
The ultimate target for the Ching Complex work is nearly 17,000 seats. A minimum of 15,000 is required to avoid waivers for Division I playing status.