September 9, 2013
Athletics department gets approval on indoor practice facility
By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – The Virginia Tech athletics department received some much-anticipated good news on Monday, as a building and grounds committee of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors approved a location for an indoor football practice facility at the Board of Visitors’ meeting on the Virginia Tech campus.

The decision ended a somewhat lengthy process, as the university and the athletics department worked out issues related to the site for the facility. The two sides came to an agreement that the best place for the facility was on part of the existing football practice fields – specifically, the one practice field adjacent to the football locker room.

“I’m very pleased with the approved location for the new indoor field house,” Tech AD Jim Weaver said. “I think it’s going to be extremely beneficial to our football program. It will give them a location that is very conducive to practicing in bad weather. We won’t have to worry about people crossing Spring Road at peak hours [to go to Rector Field House for practice], and the preparations for practice during inclement weather will be so much easier, as far as getting all the [tackling] dummies and sleds and other gear ready.

“This facility will also help many of our other sports teams. It will allow for a permanent indoor track in the Rector Field House, and our baseball, softball and lacrosse programs will be able to practice inside [at the new facility] when the weather is bad. So I’m excited about this project. This is going to help so many people.”

The project figures to run between $20 and $30 million and essentially consists of two parts – the building of the indoor football practice facility and then the renovation of Rector Field House. Athletics department officials want to keep the indoor track up permanently (they take it down after the indoor track season ends in March), add halftime locker rooms for soccer and lacrosse matches and build a hitting area adjacent to Tech Softball Park for the softball team.

Athletics department officials, including head football Frank Beamer and senior associate AD Tom Gabbard, already have a good idea of what they envision for the indoor practice facility. Gabbard said the facility would be approximately 210 feet wide and 400 feet long. It also will be tall enough for punting and kicking.

“We can have two smaller outdoor practice fields next to it or one 100-yard field,” Gabbard said. “Of the two smaller fields, one will be 75 yards and one will be 65 yards. But we can always have a 100-yard field if we turn it. It [the 100-yard field] would be parallel to the indoor practice facility.”

The athletics department plans on using a design-build approach to construct the facility. In this process, a design criteria consultant comes in and organizes the criteria for what the project entails (size, scope, etc.). That plan then goes to various architects and builders on a national scale, and the architects and builders put together design-build “teams” and do the actual designing of the facility. The various teams will then pitch their designs to the athletics department – namely, Weaver, Gabbard, Beamer and John Ballein, Tech’s associate AD for football operations.

The athletics department already has an agreement in place with SportsPLAN Studio out of Kansas City, Mo., as the design criteria consultant to put together and organize the criteria for the project. This same group, under the leadership of Joel Leider, handled the planning of the Hokies’ football locker room project. Leider and his group will have approximately 60 days to put together Tech’s design criteria into a plan.

“We hired him two years ago, but we couldn’t do anything because we didn’t have a site yet,” Gabbard said. “He’ll take into consideration some of the restrictions that the site presents. It will take him about 60 days to do that, and then he’ll give that to the design-build teams out there – there are about five or six of them who have already contacted us – and then we’ll give them about 60 days to present to us the best practice facility in America for the price we want. We’ll pick one and turn them loose, and they’ll build it.

“The thing I like about this process is that the architects and the builders are talking, so the change orders get reduced and you never lose the creativity of the architect, yet the builder keeps reeling him [the architect] in on the costs.”

Gabbard said that the athletics department would like to start site work in early 2014. The football team would lose the practice field next to the locker room, but the coaches can use the game field at Lane Stadium for practice on occasions or use Rector Field House to reduce wear and tear on the practice field next to the Merryman Center.

“Certainly, I’d like for it [the indoor practice facility] to be ready by the spring of 2015,” Gabbard said. “No later than preseason of 2015. That’s where I’d like to be.

“Once we get our plan for the indoor practice facility fixed, I’d like to start on Rector. I want to get the track and softball coaches involved, and the operations people involved. There is some stuff we want to do over there, so we’ll need to get together on that. But the first thing is getting Joel [Leider] here and start on the practice facility.”

Weaver said the department has roughly $11 million in cash or pledges for the new indoor facility. He added that it’s been a little difficult to raise money without a design to show people, but that fundraising efforts will really ramp up early next year once a design gets chosen.

For Weaver, the approval from the Board of Visitors ends a rather long wait for him. He received permission in 1998 from then-president Dr. Paul Torgersen to build an indoor practice facility, but other facilities needs took precedence at the time.

“As I continued to evaluate things, it became crystal clear to me that it [the indoor practice facility] wasn’t the most important part of the facilities ball game,” Weaver said. “We need other things. We needed work done to the stadium, in both the north and south end zones and the west side. We desperately needed a basketball practice facility. We built a new football locker room, which created space for other sports, and we built a new Olympic sports weight room, which has helped us immensely.

“So yes, it’s [the indoor practice facility] the first facility I identified when I first got here, and it’s become the last one to get built. But I’m glad we’re going to get it done. It’s something I think is needed and is really going to benefit us.”

For updates on Virginia Tech football, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@VT_Football).

For updates on the Hokies, follow Jimmy Robertson on Twitter (@jrobIHS).

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