BOZEMAN — If there's an overt sense of eagerness among the Montana State faithful to see tangible results in terms of campus-wide facilities enhancement, first-year athletic director Leon Costello has exuded the same amount of patience.
Costello has a big-picture view when it comes to moving the department’s infrastructure forward: Though some imperfections are obvious, there’s been no need to rush the process of identifying specific strengths, weaknesses and areas for expansion.
But with the release of Phase 1 of MSU athletics’ strategic plan Wednesday afternoon, things are starting to come together. Bobcat fans and boosters got their first look at the core values and essential themes for the next five years.
Costello and the athletic department are formulating their vision, goals and strategies around fundamental principles such as integrity and excellence, student-athlete well-being and, of course, the need to construct what they’re calling “championship quality facilities.”
Wherever he’s gone during his first year at MSU, Costello has largely been nudged and pressed about one issue that's on everybody’s mind.
“In my conversations throughout this year, if you get asked five questions, probably three or four of them are about facilities,” Costello said during an interview Wednesday with 406mtsports.com. “That’s at the top of the list.”
In the high-stakes world of college athletics — and the veritable facilities arms race — Montana State is admittedly among the needy, be it for improvements to the existing framework or the necessity to build more.
Costello said MSU’s facilities master plan is still being ironed out. A&E Architects in Billings is teaming with Crawford Architects of Kansas City, Missouri, to help draw out the strategy.
Another round of meetings is scheduled for Friday.
Upon the release of the facilities objective, which isn’t far off, the public will see the direction the athletic department wants to go. Until then, Costello is mum on specifics.
There have been no formal mentions of indoor practice hubs or east grandstand renovations.
“We’re looking at everything. We’re looking at it a little bit globally. What’s going to help all of our student-athletes?” he said.
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“There are definitely needs that we have. We want to improve performance, we want to give our student-athletes a proper place to train and practice in safe environments, we want our fans to have the amenities that they want to have when they watch us play, and so I really think it entails everything. We’re making great progress. It’s going really quickly.
“There are three or four areas of need that will probably shake out toward the top, and then we’ll kind of hit the ground running.”
The first move is to install new synthetic FieldTurf at Bobcat Stadium, a project Costello expects to begin later this month. The $550,000 undertaking, Costello said, should be completed in four to six weeks, in time for MSU’s June football camps.
But the turf project is not the result of outside fundraising, and is not part-and-parcel to the facilities master plan. Rather, it’s a byproduct of what Costello called “creative budgeting.”
“We’re doing the turf internally as far as the financing goes,” he said. “I didn’t want to go out and do a fundraising campaign for the turf because there are going to be other (projects) coming down the road here pretty quickly, and if we could do this internally I felt like we needed to do it that way. So we were able to make it work within our budget.”
The new turf will look much the same as the original installed before the 2008 season — with the Bobcat-head logo at midfield and Big Sky Conference logos at each 25-yard-line. Differences include the spelling out of “Montana State” in both end zones, as well as recognition of the Bobcats’ three national championship teams (1956, 1976, 1984) stitched on either sideline.
The turf will also encompass the entire stadium surface, Costello said, meaning the unseemly blue “track” that encircles the field will be removed.
“We’re excited to get that done,” he said.
Expectations are understandably high for Costello to deliver for the Bobcats, especially when you consider his work as a deputy AD at South Dakota State, where they built sparkling new facilities during his stint.
If anything, Costello knows how to navigate the path forward at MSU.
“I think we had to spend time to really plan these things out, because having a proper plan will save us time and money down the road when we’re ready to start the projects that we want to do,” he said.
“I am excited about the process because of all the people that it involves, but I’m really excited about the results that it’s going to produce from really sitting down and really strategically thinking about who we are and who we strive to be.”