ATHENS — Georgia’s football team is finally getting its indoor facility, but it’s coming at the cost of a one-year inconvenience: The team will have to practice three miles away from its normal home.
An area off South Milledge Avenue, currently used for UGA club teams, will be the Bulldogs’ home for 2016 while the indoor facility is being constructed at the Butts-Mehre complex.
The cost of re-purposing the temporary practice field will be about $1 million, based on preliminary estimates. Once the indoor facility opens, the intention is to donate the spruced-up facility back to the club teams.
The temporary practice site is about a 10-minute drive from the team’s current facilities at the Butts-Mehre building, which will remain the central point of the program in 2016. The team has its locker rooms, weight rooms, medical and training facilities and offices there.
So every day next year, or at least every day of practice, the team will bus to the temporary facility for practice, then bus back afterwards.
The area on South Milledge will be brought up to “NCAA quality,” as athletics director Greg McGarity put it on Friday. That would include putting in artificial turf fields, painting new grass fields, and adding temporary facilities for the coaches and staff.
“It’s going to cause some angst, but once we get to this site, it’s going to be a phenomenal site,” McGarity said. “That’s the only difficulty we have, is relocating out there. But we all know what the end result of this going to be.”
Jon Stinchcomb, a former Georgia offensive lineman and now a member of the athletic board, has an understanding of a team being displaced: He was with the New Orleans Saints when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
This situation will be easier to handle, Stinchcomb said, because it’s anticipated and thus there’s plenty of time to plan and get used to it.
“A bigger adjustment is when it’s mid-stream, and you can’t prepare for it. You’re used to a certain routine and you have to change out of or from that routine,” Stinchcomb said. “For all of 2016 it is expected, it is planned for. The logistics will be ironed out 100 times over before one practice is held at this new site. … It’s not something that’s going to be a wrench in the machine.”
The team could also use Sanford Stadium, which it already does for its spring and preseason scrimmages. It won’t do that very much, however, because it needs more than one 100-yard field.
“It’s gonna be an adjustment,” Stinchcomb said. “Anytime you have meetings in one place and you have to get on a bus before you get to practice, it’s an adjustment. But I think you look at the long haul, sacrificing logistics for one year for finally getting an indoor facility of this quality. It’s long overdue.”
There’s a certain irony to the South Milledge site being the temporary practice location. It was long viewed as a possible permanent location for an indoor facility, and McGarity – who’s been the athletics director since 2010 – said he saw a 1999 annual report that labeled the South Milledge location as a proposed facility site.
Georgia coach Mark Richt has been aware for some time about the temporary practice location
“He knew that to get what he really wanted there had to be some angst,” McGarity said. “It was worth the difficulty we’ll have for a year to have a facility that will certainly last a lifetime. I’m sure he’ll focus on it at the right time but I can assure you his mind is focused on this season.”
As for the indoor facility, the goal remains for it to be ready to be occupied on or before Jan. 1, 2017. McGarity showed a video presentation of the facility, including interactive renderings of how it will look outside and inside. It was based on renderings released earlier this month.
The facility has an authorized price tag of $30.2 million, set at an earlier special meeting of the athletic board. Half of that has already been allocated from UGA’s reserve fund – which as a result of that and other events is projected to go from $81.3 million at the end of 2014 to $11.7 million for the start of 2016. (The biggest chunk is a $41 million investment in the UGA foundation, or essentially moving money around to decrease debt.)
McGarity said around $3 million has already been pledged via “signed commitments.” The only one that has been publicized so far is from Fran Tarkenton, described as a six-figure commitment.
This story will be updated.