Florida will build a $15 million indoor practice facility to be completed by September, the University Athletic Association announced Wednesday morning.
The University Athletic Association announced plans on Wednesday to start construction on an indoor practice facility for football. The Gators are expected to break ground on the $15 million project this week with plans to have the facility ready to use by early September.
"This is something we have talked about internally for some time," said Florida Athletics Director Jeremy Foley. "We have always been able to utilize the O’Connell Center as an indoor option for the football team, but with the renovation starting this spring, it will no longer be available."
The facility — set to be brought to fruition by Birmingham-based Davis Architects, the firm that has handled the revamping of Florida's gymnastics facilities and will handle the renovation of the O'Connell Center, with support from Birmingham-based Brasfield & Gorrie General Contractors — will be built on the easternmost segment of the Sanders Practice Fields, according to plans released by Florida. It will "house a 120-yard synthetic turf football field, additional space for practice drills on the north end of the field, three camera platforms, satellite training-room facilities, equipment storage and restrooms."
And it will, importantly, "be funded through private gifts and capital financing."
Fans have clamored for an indoor practice facility for the Gators for years — Florida was the only SEC school without one or announced plans to built one, and the perceived drawbacks of a lack thereof, inabilities to sell the program to recruits and practice through inclement weather (Florida claims "an estimated 30 practices" were impacted by weather in the 2014 season), have been nettlesome. And those fans would seem to be getting their wish with this facility.
But more importantly, Jim McElwain would seem to be getting his wish.
Florida quietly issued a request for proposal in regards to an indoor practice facility last fall, with a December report from the Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi suggesting that ground would be broken in January with an eye on having it ready for fall practice. But that facility was set to cost $11.9 million, and would likely have included a 70-yard field on the westernmost segment of the Sanders Practice Fields — a half-measure of sorts, not unlike practice facilities built by other SEC schools without full fields.
Those plans changed this month, apparently, as noted by the eagle-eyed @MarcusAMotes: A January 8 report from a meeting on the environmental impacts of facilities improvements includes a slide showing the announced plans of the indoor practice facility, because a live oak is likely to be impacted by the facility's construction.
And the major difference in Florida football between last fall and this January is, obviously, the head coach: McElwain, as a new coach, has significantly more leverage now than Will Muschamp, as a struggling incumbent, had then, and likely used some of it to pressure Florida into getting a full-field facility rather than a partial-field one.
That he would use his leverage for that purpose should come as little surprise: While Colorado State built a 70-yard indoor practice facility that opened in 2012, after hailing the project as a "boon for Colorado State athletics", McElwain lamented the field's size after his team's first practice in the facility, and publicly wondered whether it was worthwhile to continue practicing indoors.
The size of his indoor field won't be an issue for McElwain at Florida, it seems, and that he — presumably — was able to get his way on a major capital improvement before ever coaching a game should be testament to how well McElwain, who has come off as a folksy, jovial Montanan in public appearances, can manage the politics of being Florida's head coach.
It's January 21, after all, and he's already got his first big win of the 2015 season.