ST. SIMONS ISLAND — The rendering that appears above this story was not provided by UGA. It was drawn by me. Well, at least the squiggly-lined circle and the pointing arrow are of my hand.
Can’t say I don’t have this cutting-edge technology down.
The graphic itself is actually from architects who were planning and designing Georgia’s indoor athletic facility back in 2016. I’d hoped to see some actual renderings of the newly-proposed and tentatively approved football facility that’s about to built here at the UGAAA Board of Directors meeting on Saturday. Alas, none were forthcoming.
Josh Brooks, Georgia’s deputy athletic director for operations, gave the board a 4½-minute presentation that included no graphics or power points such as the updates he provided beforehand of the just-underway equestrian and tennis projects. But, he assured one and all, the football facility is coming.
“We’ve now moved from the conceptual phase to the schematic phase where you’re really diving into each area that we’ll need,” Brooks told the gathering of men and women in the “Retreat Room” on the second floor of the historic King & Prince Resort on Wednesday. “We’re meeting weekly with key individuals, moving very quickly and moving toward a lot of exciting things. I’d anticipate at the next board meeting we’ll have more information, pictures to show you and such.”
The next meeting of the board will be Sept. 6, or the Friday before the Bulldogs’ first home game against Murray State. So it’ll be a while.
Let’s just say they won’t be ready to break ground.
Regardless, here’s what we do know: The new football facility is going to be “in the Butts-Mehre precinct,” it’s going be big and it’s going to be expensive.
Expensive as in, at least $80 million.
And don’t let Georgia’s vagueness fool you. They know a lot more about what this building is going to look like and where it’s going to go and what’s going to be in it than they’re letting on. The architectural firm of HOK Company of St. Louis and DPR Construction are conspiring on the project. Those two companies came together to give Georgia its $63 million West End renovation, which included new locker rooms, recruiting lounges, gates, seating areas and a scoreboard last fall.
Including the Payne Indoor Athletic Facility, which was opened in December of 2016, those two projects have contributed to more than $100 million in facility improvements for football since Kirby Smart became head coach.
But this one sounds like the most ambitious so far. It is supposed to serve the football team’s needs in totality, from a new locker room, weight room, training room, meeting rooms and coaches’ offices. When completed, it will open up space in the existing Butts-Mehre Complex that will be filled by the track and baseball programs.
In case there was any doubt, this project signals that the Bulldogs are now fully involved in the SEC’s facility arms race. And about that Georgia is offering no apology.
“The University of Georgia has to compete at the highest levels, which puts us in the middle of that situation,” UGA President Jere Morehead said Thursday. “At the same time, we want to do things in a thoughtful and responsible manner. And so, that’s what we’re doing in this situation.”
As to speculation that the project will cost $80 million, Morehead said, “it will depend on donor support and how it’s financed. We’ve done a lot since Kirby arrived. We’ve done the indoor practice area, we’ve done the West End project, we’re now contemplating a third project. So we’re committed to keeping Georgia at the very top nationally.”
South Carolina recently dedicated its new $50 million football facility. Florida will begin construction on its new $65 million football building next year. Smart wants Georgia’s done “as soon as possible.” Indications are construction could get underway after the 2019 season.
“Coach Smart is anxious for (this project) to take place,” McGarity told the board. “But we’re going though the process and are doing our due diligence.”
The Bulldogs are not looking to its SEC brethren for references. UGA officials recently visited the football facilities of Northwestern University and the Chicago Bears in Chicago, the Minnesota Vikings in Eagan, Minn., and Penn State to get ideas for its design.
“Sometimes it’s easier to visit your non-SEC foes where you can really dive in,” Brooks said. “You want to get into the mistakes they made and ask them what they’d change. … We’ve made a tremendous amount of architectural notes and made adjustments. That’s been exciting to see the way that’s come along.”
Morehead acknowledged that UGA’s track and field complex to the west of the football facility is not going to move anytime soon, if ever. “It’s a historic part of the university,” he said.
So the only place to put the new football building and maintain three full-size practice fields is in the area of the 70-yard specialists’ practice field behind the Spec Towns Track grandstand (see cool photo illustration). That means it will need to have multiple floors to accommodate all the uses.
That’s where the weekly meetings with architects come in.
“We don’t know the cost, we don’t know what it looks like,” McGarity said. “Right now, we’re just going through meetings with all the stakeholders, of course, (strength and conditioning coach) Scott Sinclair, Kirby, Ron Courson (sports medicine), John Meshad (equipment). We’re making sure that these areas work. So you’ve got the amount of space we need to identify and what kind of services we can plug in that we need to improve on.”
Again, it’s further along than Georgia is willing to share at this point. A focused and intense fundraising effort has been going on since last fall. Smart has been personally appealing to some of UGA’s most generous donors and then soliciting others at privately-held dinners across the state.
“We’ve already made several trips of a fundraising nature and we have several key alumni who are ready to step up and support,” Morehead said. “We’ll have a plan for them shortly.”
I’m thinking there are some pretty detailed plans laying on some architect’s drawing board in Atlanta or St. Louis. That’s all right. I’ve got my own.