GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida is making a strong push to catch up in the facilities race of college athletics.
A little more than a year after finishing a $17 million indoor practice field and with a $65 million renovation to its on-campus arena nearing completion, the Gators announced concepts for the next phase of upgrades Friday.
The $100 million “master plan” includes a stand-alone football facility and significant improvements to outdated baseball and softball stadiums.
“There’s a lot of momentum building in our program on different levels,” said Jeremy Foley, who is retiring Oct. 1 after 25 years as Florida’s athletic director. “And I think these things are going to keep us moving forward.”
Foley and his staff shared the concepts with the University Athletic Association board Friday afternoon and then released them publicly. The school still has to raise the $100 million, which Foley expects will come from private donations, bonds and borrowed cash. The Gators, who already have $91 million in debt carried, anticipate having blueprints and a timeframe for breaking ground this fall.
Florida currently houses football meeting rooms and coaches’ offices inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. It’s cramped quarters, and the weight room is shared with student-athletes from other sports.
The stand-alone facility would give the football program its own space, an estimated 100,000 square feet located between the team’s practice fields and the basketball practice facility. It will have offices, a training room, a weight room, a players’ lounge, a recruiting lounge and other amenities. Second-year coach Jim McElwain has been outspoken about the need to upgrade Florida’s facilities.
“It will be everything that we need, that Mac has envisioned,” Foley said. “Obviously, he has been talking about facilities because those are important to him. Part of our job as athletic directors and administrators is to listen to our coaches. You can’t always do everything you want right away. You can’t always do what they want all the time because of financial constraints.
“But at the University of Florida, when that football coach has a vision he wants to convey to you, we’re going to do it.”
Other parts of the plan include:
— McKethan Stadium, where the baseball team practices and plays, would get about 400 club seats covered by a roof structure, field-level seating behind home plate, expanded dugouts and a renovated press box. The team also would get a players’ lounge and enhanced locker rooms.
— Pressly Stadium, where the softball team practices and plays, would expand seating from 1,200 to about 2,500, add shaded structures over seats behind home plate and along the first- and third-base lines, create additional restrooms and concession spaces, and add offices, locker rooms and meeting rooms.
— A new dining hall would be built for all student-athletes.
— Current football offices would be converted into administrative offices, and the current weight room and training room would be renovated for use by all student-athletes.
“One of the things we did when we did our facility assessment is to look at what we current had, what our needs were, what are peer institutions had and then determine, ‘OK, where do we need it and where is the best place to do it?'” said Chip Howard, Florida’s executive associate AD for internal affairs.
It had become obvious that Florida’s facilities were not on par with some of the biggest spenders in the Southeastern Conference and other high-profile programs around the country.
But if these concepts become reality the Gators will have committed $207 million to facility upgrades since January 2015. That includes the master plan projects, the indoor practice facility, the O’Dome renovation and the Hawkins Center, a $25 million academic center for student-athletes.
Foley is quick to point out that the Gators won two national titles in football (2006, 2008), back-to-back national championships in basketball (2006-07), advanced to the College World Series five times in the last nine years and won consecutive softball titles (2014-15) without the plushest amenities.
“Facilities are just part of the conversation,” Foley said. “Our facilities have not kept us from being successful. … Obviously these things are going to help us recruit, help us be successful. At the end of the day, it’s going to go back to what it always does: coaching, recruiting. These facilities will enhance that, but it’s not the end-all, be-all.
“If you have good coaches, you’re going to get good athletes, and we’ve shown that time and time again around here.”
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