Redesigning an athletic field can be a monumental task, but completing the changes for the University of Arkansas in 149 days is nothing short of miraculous. Such was the case for the John McDonnell field, named after one of the most successful coaches in NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) track history.
Over the last three decades, the outdoor track facility at the University of Arkansas had gone through several renovations, many of them involving major overhauls. Originally called University Track, the first changes came about in the late 1980’s. Prior to hosting the Southeast Conference (SEC) Championships, a new track surface was laid and the press box facility was renovated to be double its original size. Enhancing the look, a wrought iron fence was installed around the perimeter of the facility.
By the time the 1994 SEC Championships took place, the runways and jumping areas were updated. Also at that time, a fully automated computer timing system and scoreboard were added. By 1998, the track was once again stripped down to its foundation and resurfaced, and as the project continued, concrete runways were poured for the pole vaulting along the edges of the infield.
Soon bleachers for over 2,000 spectators were installed with views of the nine-lane 400-meter track and infield. The overall design of the facility allowed space for nearly every outdoor track and field sport to be executed at the same time if required.
On September 26, 1998, the facility was renamed the John McDonnell Field in honor of the legendary men’s track coach. Over the course of his twenty-year career, Coach Field won 42 NCAA championships, including including 11 cross country, 19 indoor track and 12 outdoor track. This record gave him more wins than any coach in any sport in the history of college athletics.
By 2005, the John McDononnel Field was ready for another update, but this time it went far beyond resurfacing a track. The University of Arkansas was preparing to host the 2006 Southeastern Conference (SEC) Outdoor Championships and began to rebuild the facility from the ground up.
The decision was made to build an IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federation) Class I track and new blueprints had to be draw to accommodate the larger track. This massive undertaking was completed in only 149 days to be ready for the SEC games.
Kinco Constructors LLC had two superintendents on the job at all times, and 20 subcontractors worked on a very fast-paced schedule. Over 200 people worked in a small area, seven days a week – all while classes at the University of Arkansas were in session.
The surface on the John McDonnell Feld featured the Mondo Super X Performance track with a sought-after biomechanical design. The 400 meter track offers nine 48-inch lanes on the oval area, with two additional 48-inch sprint tracks.
Located within the infield, a number of sections for sports are set up including the Steeplechase Water Jump pit, two shot put rings, two bi-directional pole vault areas, two bi-directional long and triple jump areas, two javelin runways, and two high jump areas.
To maximize the viewing of for spectators, a16-foot (4.9 meter) by 9-foot (2.7 meter) LED video board was installed in the north end of the stadium. Previously, a maximum of 2,000 people could watch the games unfold, but with the newest renovations, the capacity was increaded to 7,000. An additional 3,000 people could potentially be in the stands with temporary seating or construction if required.
In May 2006, during the SEC Championships, the John McDonnell Field was rededicated to honor the achievements of the University’s most winning coach. Athletes from many regions would come to know the name as future meets were held, including the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships, and the annual John McDonnell Invitational.
In 2008, the John McDonnell Field was named the outdoor track and field facility of the year by the American Sports Builders Association for exhibiting excellence in design and construction.