The Big House is Getting Bigger

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan Stadium looks dramatically different, looming so large along Main Street that its luxury boxes cast a shadow on sunny mornings.
To a 20-year-old woman who works across the street, "The Big House," has a developed a new moniker
"We call it `The Shadium,"' Stacie Steils said Thursday, looking through the windows of AAA Michigan at the iconic sporting venue. "It's just so big."
Yes, it is.
Since the day after the Wolverines lost to Ohio State last November, 7,300 tons of steel have been erected to house 82 suites, a slew of club seats and a new press box from end zone to end zone on both sides.
The $226 million construction project is scheduled to be completed for the 2010 season. It has kept an average of 175 workers busy each day from about 7 a.m. until almost midnight.
Lately, the dust has settled because coach Rich Rodriguez will make his Michigan debut against Utah in two weeks.
"You'd like to fast forward the clock two years, but we're fortunate to be here in the process," Rodriguez said.
It's been quite a process.
Earth-moving equipment has moved enough dirt that it would equal an 18-foot mound in Michigan Stadium slabs of concrete -- enough to fill six football fields -- have been put in place for new concourses. If the storm, sanitary, water and gas lines were put in a single file, it would be 52 football fields long.
The stadium's current capacity is 107,501 -- bigger than any football stadium in the country -- and the renovations will increase the figure to more than 108,000.
School officials have been soliciting well-heeled fans to pay for the project.
Commitments for 51 of the 82 suites that cost $55,000 to $85,000 each year to entertain 16 fans have been secured, according to senior associated athletic director Joe Parker. Almost 1,600 of the 3,600 club seats have been sold for annual gifts of $1,500 to $4,000 plus the cost of the tickets, Parker said. Major donors from New York to California have already given $31-plus million for naming rights as part of the project.
Michigan avoided a possible problem in the spring, agreeing to improve wheelchair access as part of a deal with a paralyzed veterans' group that had sued the school.
Starting with this season, 96 new accessible seats -- plus seats for companions -- will be available along the east side of the stadium. By the start of the 2010 season, when the construction project is finished, at least 329 accessible seats, plus seats for companions will be added.
Michigan athletic director Bill Martin, who was not part of the media's tour of the project on Thursday, had acknowledged that the proposed changes are not unanimously popular. He said the opposing views reflect how much people care about Michigan football and its storied stadium.
"It's healthy," Martin has said. "We've gotten some good suggestions."
Incorporating bricks throughout the new-look stadium was one example of feedback leading to fruition, but eliminating the luxury suites is what groups such as Save the Big House truly wanted.

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