While the Florida Gators were in the midst of hiring a new head football coach, the University of Florida continued to progress in its plans to potentially build an indoor practice facility for the program with a completion date as early as July 2015.
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 that there were no plans on the horizon to build an indoor practice facility, and that may have been the case at the time, but the early stages of planning have continued.
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.
» Option 1: “An inflatable, tensile structure over the current location of the synthetic practice field” that would cover 70 yards (including two end zones). Cost for the structure and support building would total approximately $4.6 million, making it the lowest-cost option and also one that would allow for “flexibility of quick and easy take downs.”
» Option 2: “A more permanent indoor facility utilizing tilt-up precast concrete walls and clearspan steel roof structure” that would “take advantage of natural cross ventilation with large overhead doors on each side of the field.” This structure would utilize a natural playing service and also span 70 yards (including two end zones) at a cost of approximately $10.2 million, including the support building. It would also require a solid retaining wall and the likely relocation of the throwing area for track & field (safety precautions).
» Option 3: A slightly less expensive option at $10.1 million, this would be constructed using the same general design as option two but oriented in an east-west direction. It would also result in the Gators’ other two practice fields to be oriented north-south and be shortened to a 40-yard practice field and 35-yard drill field.
It is important to note that all three options are relatively simple indoor practice facilities that will give Florida the ability to avoid missing practices due to weather and provide a couple of other comfort benefits but not much else in the way of bells and whistles. The surfaces would each be approximately 70 yards, including a 50-yard field, two 10-yard end zones and anywhere from 0-20 feet of a buffer between each end zone and the back of the structure. The school would set aside $11.9 million for the project.
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.
[Editor’s Note: CPP is responsible for some of the most well-known facilities, expansions and renovations on campus. Among its numerous other on-campus contributions, CPP has completed three projects on Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (expansion, skybox additions, west concourse renovations); built the Heavener Football Complex next to The Swamp; and created the basketball practice facility, lacrosse facility and tennis complex.]
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 month on Nov. 18, athletic director Jeremy 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.”
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.)
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 facelift 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.”
Should the Gators decide to go ahead with getting an indoor practice facility approved, designed and constructed by July 2015 – a tall task considering the other projects on campus – it would it available for both summer and fall practice. Florida football currently trains in the O’Dome during inclement weather, but the facility will be unavailable until December 2015 due to the aforementioned renovation.
OnlyGators.com reviewed 10 documents spanning dozens of pages to obtain the above information. All the documents are available to the public.