ATHENS — Two months after ground was actually broken, and many years after football coaches first clamored for it, Georgia held a ceremony long in the making: Ground-breaking for an indoor athletic facility.
Kirby Smart, the football team’s new coach, was front and center, along with UGA president Jere Morehead, athletics director Greg McGarity, and a bevy of heavy hitters. They took shovels and ceremonially lifted dirt, commemorating the building of a facility that is set to cost $30.2 million.
“This is a first class facility,” Smart said in prepared remarks at a mid-afternoon ceremony. “It’s going to enhance our ability to prepare and compete at a championship level. I was able to see the benefits of this type of facility first hand over the last nine years (at Alabama). It shows our continued commitment to excellence in athletics here at the University of Georgia. And I want everybody to understand that we will be good keepers of this investment.”
The facility is earmarked for a budget of $30.2 million, and McGarity said they have secured pledges of just over $20.3 million. The original goal was to fund raise for half of it.
“I am very, very confident that we will be on time and on budget,” McGarity said in his prepared remarks.
Naming rights have yet to be sold for the facility, McGarity told reporters afterwards, but if it happened “that would take us past” $30.2 million.
“You can sense the re-invigoration,” McGarity said. “It’s a different air, excitement. It’s something that I think is really going to be special. There’s no question it’s going to help our program. Our donors have just been fantastic.”
Tuesday’s rather lavish event – held beneath a large awning, featured catered food, was attended by important officials and donors from all around UGA, athletic and academic. Smart mingled before the ceremony with Don Leeburn Jr., the longtime member of the board of regents, and his wife Suzanne Yoculan-Leeburn, the legendary former UGA gymnastics coach.
The actual physical groundbreaking occurred more than two months ago, and work has been ongoing since then. A big pile of dirt could be seen in an area behind the tent, along with excavators, diggers and other construction equipment.
The facility has been long in the making. It was November of 2013 when Jeremy Pruitt, then the defensive coordinator, made comments about Georgia’s lack of a facility after a day of bad weather forced the team to practice in its shorter facility. That small facility was knocked down a couple months ago to make room for the new facility, which was finally green-lighted last September.
“One of the big issues was where we were going to put it,” Morehead said after the ceremony. “This was a challenge to build it in the heart of the campus. But as we continued to have those discussions, it appeared that it would be better utilized if it wasn’t isolated away from the main campus. And then trying to figure out a way to situate it to where it could be built in the middle of the campus. That became something that the architects could figure out. …
“But we’re there now. And I think we look to the future, and I believe everyone is excited at where we’re headed.”
The goal for completion of the facility is the beginning of next year. In the meantime Smart’s football team will hold practices – this spring and throughout the 2016 season – at what have been club fields about a 10-minute drive away.
“I also want you to know that my office is located right next to this facility, so the progress that I get to see every day is both seen, felt and heard on a first name-basis,” Smart said, drawing a laugh from the crowd of about 200 people. “At least with that you know progress is being made when dirt is being moved.”
Smart finished by saying he looked forward to seeing everyone at G-Day. He then participated in the shoveling part of the ceremony, then left for a team function.
Morehead, in his prepared remarks at the ceremony, emphasized all sports, not just football, in his opening remarks, mentioning that more than 550 student-athletes can use it. The school president also opined that visually it will “complement” the adjacent Stegeman Coliseum.
“But more importantly than what it will look like, is what it will do for our students and coaches,” Morehead said.