All those Georgia football fans who’ve fixated on the “need” for an indoor practice, dating back to the Jim Donnan years, must be having heart palpitations over this week’s big news from Athletic Director Greg McGarity that the long-discussed project is “moving very quickly, as quickly as possible.”
Although no official action was taken concerning the planned indoor facility during this week’s UGA athletic board meeting, a couple of very important details did surface: We know where it’s probably going to go, and that the price tag will be “in the ballpark” of a whopping $30 million, twice what the University of Florida is spending to build its own indoor facility.
Obviously, after dragging its feet over this idea for most of the Mark Richt era, Butts-Mehre now figures, in for a penny, in for a pound.
As McGarity put it this week, “We have one chance to get it right and we do not want to compromise. This building will be here forever, so you have to think that way, in all areas of design, in all areas of communicating with all the users. That involves a number of our sports, making sure that we don’t make any decisions that come back to haunt us in the future. We want to get it right.”
While the previous debate centered on whether an indoor facility could be squeezed into the Woodruff Practice Fields area behind the athletic association’s headquarters building or should be built out near the soccer stadium on South Milledge, where there’s plenty of space but getting there is a hassle, it now appears the planners have focused instead on a plot just next to the existing practice fields, between Lumpkin Street and Stegeman Coliseum.
Some had suggested placing it where UGA’s very nice track and field facility is located on Lumpkin, but officials were loathe to consider that site since the track also is used heavily by the surrounding community in Athens, in addition to UGA athletes.
So, the priority was to place it near Butts-Mehre “while preserving the track,” UGA President Jere Morehead said.
Apparently they decided not to simply replace one of the four outdoor practice fields, so now they’ve zeroed in on land currently occupied by parking and the Hoke Smith Annex on Carlton Street, which houses the ag school’s Cooperative Exension Service, the state’s 4-H program and elements of the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, all of whom would be relocated, Morehead indicated.
Since that property belongs to the university, not the athletic association, some sort of real estate transfer will be necessary, which was the excuse used for the athletic board going into executive session to discuss the plan in private Tuesday.
The planned facility would be about 80 yards wide, 140 yards long and 65 feet high, McGarity said, so, if that ends up being the final location, the annex building likely will be torn down and Smith Street, which runs along the parking lots from Lumpkin to the coliseum, also might wind up getting closed.
The $30 million price tag, to be paid for in part with fund-raising from private donors, is twice what McGarity had previously estimated last fall. Of course, the facility probably could be built out on Milledge at much less cost and without having to tear anything down, but Richt doesn’t like the idea of having to bus the players to and from that location, plus it’s out of sight of the main campus and thus would not provide the recruiting pop that they’re going for.
And, basically, that’s the only real reason this facility is finally getting built at all — because, as defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt pointed out last fall in some embarrassingly public lobbying on the subject, other schools are citing Georgia’s lack of an indoor facility in their recruiting pitches. And, with Florida planning on opening its indoor facility this coming season, UGA is the only SEC school without one.
It’s a very expensive bragging point. But, as South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said when Clemson was boasting about its new indoor facility, “I think we practiced indoors two to three days last year. That’s all. … But it’s good to have one. … And, really, you have one because everyone else has one.”
That’s the bottom line: You have to have one because everyone else has one.
Yes, there are days when an indoor facility is needed because of bad weather, and, as Pruitt noted when that happened last fall, the current indoor space available — the Nalley Multipurpose Facility at Butts-Mehre — is too small to be of any real use. It’s basically a banquet hall with artificial turf. Said Pruitt sarcastically after using it, “It’s kind of like when you used to play football in the living room. I told them, ‘don’t run into the coffee table over there that has pointed edges.’”
Still, $30 million is a lot of money to spend for maybe three or four days of practice per season and to impress a bunch of high school students trying to decide where they want to play college football.
So, if you’re going to spend that much money, you need to get as much bang for your bucks as possible.
McGarity has said that “other sports” besides football will use the facility, mentioning baseball and track. While none of the plans for the facility have been made public yet, you’d have to figure that at the very least an indoor track around the practice field will be included.
And ideally the turf itself will be retractable or can be covered to provide a floor for other activities. At the University of North Carolina, the multi-level indoor facility has coaches’ offices, locker rooms and a training area; a six-lane, 200-meter NCAA championship track; and climate-controlled indoor seating, video and team meeting rooms.
Also, if UGA is going to spend that kind of money, why limit use of the indoor facility to teams playing NCAA sports? At other schools that have such facilities, they’re made available to club sports teams and, where feasible, even to the community at large (as UGA’s outdoor track is). Since I have a daughter in Athens who plays for a club team that’s practiced in some pretty frigid conditions lately, I know they’d welcome the chance to be able to use an indoor field.
Actually, such open access appears to be pretty common at schools that have long had indoor facilities. UNC’s Eddie Smith Field House, for example, is made available to faculty, staff and students and even is used by community recreational leagues in Chapel Hill.
If UGA really wants to “get it right,” this new indoor facility with the supersized price tag should be a lot more than just a football field with a roof.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.