ATHENS – Remember when Jeremy Pruitt came out and said Georgia needed to hurry up and build an indoor practice facility for football for the 2015 season? Well, obviously that didn’t happen. And as it turns out, it now appears highly unlikely that the Bulldogs’ much-anticipated Indoor Athletic Facility will be ready before the 2016 season.
Greg McGarity confirmed as much Thursday morning. The UGA athletic director said that underground utility work and site preparation will take at least three or four months to complete, and that cannot commence until the Bulldogs have completed the 2015 season. Then the actual construction of the massive building, which will be located on the eastern-most side of the current football complex, will take at least seven to nine months to finish.
That means it will likely be well into the 2016 season – if then — before it’s ready for use.
“That was one of the negatives on the front end with this site,” McGarity said. “It’s a complex site. The other site, there was nothing to stop us out there. But that site was eliminated for a number of reasons. And regardless of where it went, there were going to be challenges from a site-development standpoint.”
After approving the construction project, the Georgia athletic board considered five different sites on campus for erecting the facility. The first choice was on the site of the Hoke Smith Annex next to Stegeman Coliseum and across Smith Street from the current football complex. But that plan was nixed due to complications caused by displacing members of the agriculture department, which inhabited the site, and other mitigating factors.
The chief problem with the selected site, which will run length-wise along Rutherford Street across from baseball’s Foley Field, is what’s underground. Every utility imaginable runs underneath the fields behind Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. There is also a 175,000-gallon cistern beneath the ground that collects water for irrigating the fields.
All that must be removed, encased or otherwise dealt with.
Mark Richt and the Bulldogs’ football coaches have long spoken of the need for an indoor practice facility to utilize in the case of inclement or extremely hot or cold weather and they wanted it within the footprint of the current football complex. In the past, the team has had to use the gyms at the Ramsey Student Center or bus to the Atlanta Falcons’ complex in Suwanee when weather rendered the outdoor fields unusable.
The irony here is the football team’s preparations will now be disrupted for what possibly could be all of 2016. McGarity estimated the project would take “a full calendar year” to complete. Because of the size and the scope of it, Georgia’s practice grounds will be rendered unusable for spring, summer and at least the beginning of fall practices.
“That’s an area we’ve been focusing on for two months, alternative practice plans,” McGarity said. “We all knew this area was going to be very complex and there was going to be some angst during the process. There’s obviously going to be a transition for a period of time.”
McGarity said the Bulldogs would keep their practices on campus but would say only that they’re “considering several locations.”
Some options would appear to be the intramural fields on College Station Road, the soccer/softball complex on South Milledge and the “club fields” on South Milledge. Of course, they can always use the field at Sanford Stadium during the spring but likely would not during the season.
“We’re all on the same page internally,” said McGarity, who said the building design will be unveiled soon. “It is what it is to have it built in this precinct. We knew there were going to be challenges. But when it’s all over it will be a first-class facility everybody can be proud of.”
Georgia went through a similar situation before the 2010 season as construction was ongoing on the $35 million Butts-Mehre expansion project. In that case, all the grass fields were eliminated for use and the team was limited to using the two artificial-grass fields.
This time, however, the whole complex will an active construction site, with cranes, trailers and equipment storage on the grounds.