Updated April 28 at 3:30 p.m.
The Florida Gators announced Wednesday that construction is set to begin on a $15 million indoor practice facility for the football team that will be “ready for use by early September.”
Florida scrapped its original plans to build a smaller, 70-yard facility, opting instead for a 120-yard “synthetic turf football field” inside a building that will also allow for “three camera platforms, satellite training-room facilities, equipment storage and restrooms.”
The construction project is so large, according to the school, that it will result in a new plaza being built, including a new entrance for the baseball stadium.
“This is something we have talked about internally for some time,” Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley said in a release. “We have always been able to utilize the O’Connell Center as an indoor option for the football team, but with the renovation starting this spring, it will no longer be available.”
Due to a lack of available land, Florida will build the indoor practice facility on top of the Sanders Practice Fields, taking up the largest (lengthwise) area of the three parallel fields. The Gators will still retain 120-yard and 70-yard outdoor fields.
“Each coach is different in what they would utilize it for, and Coach [Jim McElwain] has a plan to utilize that indoor a good bit,” UF executive associate athletic director for internal affairs, Chip Howard, told the Orlando Sentinel. “It made that sense at that point, once we discussed it with him, that we would utilize the 120-yard field.”
Update – April 28: Florida replaced the images originally published in the story on its website. The new images available via Davis Architects on GatorZone.com are below. See the bottom of this page for the original images. Design subject to change.
The construction will be a joint venture between Davis Architects and Brasfield & Gorrie General Contractors out of Birmingham, Alabama. UF announced that it plans to raise the $15 million needed “through private gifts and capital financing,” though it is not believed those monies have been acquired.
OnlyGators.com reported in December that Florida was getting close to announcing plans for an indoor practice facility.
In October, a notice of bid/request for a proposal requiring “design/build services” for “Project UAA-35, Indoor Practice Facility (Main Campus)” was submitted to the Florida Department of State, with the University Athletic Association noting that it was “considering the possibilities of providing an indoor practice field for the football program on its current practice site” as well as “a new storage building … to provide space for a satellite athletic training space, hydration station, toilet, and field maintenance equipment.”
A UAA spokesman told The Gainesville Sun in October – after that information came out – that there were no plans on the horizon to build an indoor practice facility. Nevertheless, the UAA hired RDG Planning & Design to mock up plans for a potential indoor practice facility, which the company did by creating three options that would require adjustments to the current site of Florida football’s practice fields.
All three options called for a 70-yard facilities at a cost of approximately $11.9 million.
On December 4, the UF Planning Design and Construction Division met with four firms – D.E. Scorpio/Walker Architects (Gainesville), Skanska/Alfonso Architects (Tampa), Charles Perry Partners/RDG (Gainesville), Brasfield & Gorrie/Davis Architects (Birmingham, Alabama) – at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, each receiving 50 minutes for a presentation and discussion.
As part of the official documents submitted in October to begin this process, UF and the UAA gave two specific reasons as to why they felt an indoor practice facility was necessary for the football program.
• Allow practice to continue without interruption of inclement weather. At times, the team needs to seek cover during these events. This disrupts the continuity of the team’s training session.
• Compete with peers to recruit quality student athletes. The facility’s lack of space for indoor training has set the University’s program behind the majority of their peers within the SEC conference and the NCAA. This, in turn, puts the football program at a disadvantage in recruiting top student athletes.
Just last November, Foley promised the Gators would “not [be] getting into an arms race” with their facilities during the same press conference in which he announced the dismissal of head coach Will Muschamp.
“I wear orange and blue goggles a lot, and I’m certainly willing to have wide-open eyes, but I don’t agree with the assessment that our facilities have fallen behind. We judge our facilities based on [whether] they help our programs be successful. Do they make an impact on their ability to be successful? Whether that’s a weight room for football or a gymnastics practice studio, whatever have you,” explained Foley.
“As you look around our facilities, we’re not into bells and whistles. We’re always looking to upgrade our facilities, but we’re not getting into an arms race.”
Howard told the Orlando Sentinel that the new indoor practice facility does not buck Foley’s prior comments.
“We try not to get in the arms race,” Howard said. “We want our facilities to service our student-athletes and coaches. Each and every fall, we’d all sit around and look at our lightning program during football practices because they have nowhere else to go.”
The Gators had approximately 30 practices “impacted” by weather last season, and UF canceled a handful of those practices due to unavailable space to drill indoors.
Florida is currently one of five SEC schools without a full indoor practice facility; the other four – Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi State and South Carolina – are either in the process of building one or have plans to do so. (UGA and USC, respectively, currently have 30- and 50-yard mini indoor facilities.) Central Florida (2015) was the first in-state school to construct an IPF with Florida State opening its facility in 2014.
That is not to say the Gators and UAA have not spent plenty of money on their programs over the last decade. Florida invested $54 million in The Swamp from 2003-04 and another $28 million to completely renovate the football facility and create the Heavener Football Complex from 2007-08. An additional $6.2 million was spent in 2009 to replace video screens and install the Heisman Trophy-winner statues, putting the outlay over the last 10 years for football alone at approximately $88 million.
Unlike many athletic programs, Florida is not tasked with keeping just one top-tier, money-generating program current but rather two. The Gators have spent $3.4 million since 2006 to improve the Stephen C. O’Connell Center and will begin a $45 million face lift to the facility at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season. The Gators also recently built a lacrosse facility for the national title-contending team and spent $4.5 million to renovate the practice studio for the gymnastics squad, which has won back-to-back national titles.
Along with the O’Dome renovation scheduled for next year is an additional $1.75 million renovation to the Office of Student Life, which Foley said is a big deal for Florida.
“We’re putting a major, major expansion into our academic center,” he said. “I think when you bring young men and women on campus with their parents, our commitment to their academic success and their personal development as human beings is really important.”
The Gators originally wanted to have an indoor practice facility constructed by July 2015, but re-design plans forced them to push back the open date to September 2015, just as the new season is beginning. This construction is certainly a tall task for Florida considering the simultaneous $45 million renovation of the O’Dome, which is not set to be completed until November 2015.
Original images of the indoor practice facility from Davis Architects via Florida.
An image of the indoor practice facility obtained by OnlyGators.com.