June 9, 2015
Hokies' impressive indoor practice facility nearing completion
New building to benefit several Tech sports

One doesn’t need a master’s in civil engineering to determine that everything about the sprawling new building on the southern end of Virginia Tech’s campus screams “Virginia Tech.”

One only needs to take a quick glance.

Everything about Virginia Tech’s new indoor practice facility – from its color to its design features to its architectural touches – says “Hokie,” as the multi-million dollar project nears its completion date.

Perhaps there is a better way to sum up this project. The facility was built by Hokies, for Hokies and paid for by Hokies.

Workers from W.M. Jordan Company – a company whose CEO is John Lawson, a 1975 graduate of Tech – and other subcontractors were putting the finishing touches on several areas, including a water retention system outside of the building that captures rainwater, stores it underground and allows the sediment to fall to the bottom of holding tanks before dispensing the water into the campus’s drainage system. They also were wrapping up some electrical work, doing some landscaping, paving the road behind the facility and installing a border fence.

Essentially, all the remains are the installation of a graphics package that includes photos of great players and great moments in Tech history, including those from football and Olympic sports. The athletics department went with Forty Nine Degrees, a graphics design company out of Ohio, and Dave Knachel (director of photography and design), Kevin Jones (assistant AD for special projects and design) and Thomas Guerry (director of high school relations for football) are overseeing that part of the project. Also, the installation of an audio/visual package will take place in July.

“We’re also going to be tearing up our bluegrass practice field and installing Bermuda grass,” said Tom Gabbard, senior associate AD for facilities and operations. “We’re going to install a sprinkler system, too.

“Once we get that done, I can’t wait to see it, with all the green grass up against that beautiful new building. I’m really excited about the way this has turned out.”

Gabbard expects the building to be turned over to the athletics department any day now, but Tech head football coach Frank Beamer and his football program will be the most visible tenant – and Beamer couldn’t be happier. He long sought a new indoor practice facility because Rector Field House, the Hokies’ previous indoor facility, had its limitations. The roof wasn’t high enough and the walls too close to the sidelines, thus preventing any scrimmage work.

Those no longer will be issues.

“I’m very excited about it,” Beamer said. “In my opinion, W.M Jordan has built us the best indoor practice facility in the country. It’s an attractive building with the Hokie stone and Virginia Tech all over of it. It answers all the needs in terms of usability, being able to kick and being able to scrimmage and just use it in any way we need.

“It’s just a great addition to our program here. I think it’s the best in the country, and I think it makes a statement about Virginia Tech football that we want to be the best in the country. That’s our goal.”

Tech’s new facility is 210 feet wide and 400 feet long, with an artificial surface installed by Shaw Sports Turf. The top-of-the-line synthetic turf is fast, firm and dense, or in other words, a quality product from a proven entity. The company boasts the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens as one of its clients, having installed the surface at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens’ home.

The height from the playing surface to the bottom of the steel ceiling trusses is over 86 feet at its apex, thus allowing plenty of room for punting and kicking, as Beamer eluded. Its’ eight-foot padded walls, wide sidelines, full scoreboard and 40-second clocks on each end allow the football program to hold a full-contact scrimmage.

In addition, the facility features garage-type doors, which open quickly and allow the players to move rapidly from the outdoor practice field into the indoor facility in the event of inclement weather. Tech’s staff, though, plans on using the facility more than just when the weather turns ugly. Beamer envisions using it daily, or close to it.

“We’ll have it on our practice schedule,” he said. “You’ll be in the indoor facility or on the practice field or in the stadium. There will be three locations that we’ll probably use on a daily basis.

“I used to be worried about practicing a lot on artificial turf, but artificial turf is not the same as it was 10 years ago. It’s much better. Still, I think you’ve got to be careful about being on it a lot. I think we need to change up who should be on it, whether it’s offensive linemen on this day and defensive linemen the next day, or whatever.

“It’s such a benefit that, if weather is bad, you can carry on a practice and do everything that you’d normally do in a practice. It’s just a tremendous benefit to our program.”

The facility also features a video platform that runs the entire length of the field. Three doors at separate locations lead out to observation decks to allow the video staff to film the portions of practice being held outdoors. Beamer also has his own observation deck in the facility, with a door that leads to a deck outside for the observation of the outdoor portion of a practice.

W.M. Jordan handled most of the construction responsibilities, but HKS Architects designed the facility, and the architectural and design features of the building definitely give it a Virginia Tech feel. It possesses maroon trim and Hokie stone on the bases of each support column. The archway entrance resembles that at Lane Stadium.

Plus, the university’s core values – brotherhood, honor, leadership, sacrifice, service, loyalty, duty and Ut Prosim – have been etched along the bases of the columns. Architects borrowed this feature from the pylons above War Memorial Chapel along Tech’s Drillfield.

“We tried very hard to tie a lot of things together,” said John Angle, W.M. Jordan’s project manager for this project and a Virginia Tech graduate himself. “As far as jobs go, this has been a great project. The team has been unbelievable to work with, from Virginia Tech to all of our consultants and even our trades. They’ve all stepped up to the plate. I think a lot of them are Hokies, and they’ve all been team players. To that end, it’s been a great job.”

The number of teams and student-athletes will benefit from the massive structure are almost as numerous as the many unique features of this one-of-a-kind addition to the Tech campus. The athletics department envisions men’s and women’s soccer, softball, baseball and lacrosse all using the building for training and conditioning purposes, particularly during inclement weather in late winter and early spring.

“I think it’s going to be a tremendous help to us,” said Tech women’s soccer coach Chugger Adair, whose programs has been to seven straight NCAA Tournaments and is coming off a Sweet 16 appearance. “It’s going to help us in terms of training in the spring because the weather can be challenging. We’ve trained in the mornings in the spring, and sometimes when we wake up, we’re trying to figure out training facilities. We’ve even used War Memorial gym occasionally. But we’ll be able to do more activities that are soccer related in the new facility, and we’re looking forward to that.

“And this is also going to help us in recruiting. It’s a training facility for all sports, and just looking at it and seeing the commitment Virginia Tech has to all sports, that’s something that recruits see and value. We’ve always stressed how willing Coach [Frank] Beamer and his staff and John Ballein [senior associate AD for football operations] have been to share facilities. They share meeting space with us and training facilities and such. It just shows the support for one another here, and we stress that as we discuss things with recruits.”

“It’s good for Virginia Tech,” Beamer said, echoing the point “The old indoor facility is going to be turned over to track, or at least that’s my understanding, and that’s going to help them. The other sports and us will take advantage of this place. We’ll all work together to be the best athletic department we can be.”

The completion of the facility allows the athletics department to move on to the next project, which includes renovating Rector Field House. Officials want to keep the indoor track up permanently at Rector (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. A timetable for the second part of the project hasn’t been established yet.

Much of the timetable hinges on fundraising – and as most of Hokie Nation knows, no state funding gets used for athletics. The Hokie Club staff has raised $20.2 million of the $21.3 million price tag for the new practice facility, and staff members continue to work hard to secure the rest along with raising funds for the Rector renovation project. Those wishing to contribute can contact the Hokie Club office (540-231-6618).

Impressive facilities are paramount to success in college athletics, and Tech boasts some impressive facilities. But standing pat is not an option, and department officials continue to encourage donors and fans to be a part of something special through their support, both financial and through their attendance at events.

“It’s a direct show of your intentions as to what you want to be,” Beamer said of facilities.

And Tech’s intentions are fairly clear. Since 1998, the department – thanks to its donors – has invested more than $220 million in facilities, both in the building of new ones and upgrading of existing ones.

This new indoor practice facility gives the school the latest advantage in the race to success.

“You look at it and I think our stadium is the best in the country from being vertical, and our fans are great,” Beamer said. “Now we’ve got an indoor facility that I think is the best in the country. We’ve been fortunate that we do have facilities that match up very well with the best in the country.”

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