Utes to bulk up football facilities
Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham likes to show off the University of Utah's stadium, the indoor practice facility and the weight room to recruits. But when the tour stops at the football offices and team complex, he prefers to show them a bit of the future and not the present.
The Dee Glen Smith Center, which was built in 1991, isn't something to boast about, the coach believes. He says it has become outdated when compared with facilities at top programs like some in the Pac-10.
"We're in dire need of a new football center," Whittingham said. "We have excellent football facilities here, but the center isn't one of them."
That need will be filled soon as the Utes, with approval from the Utah Legislature, are moving forward with a major renovation of the Smith Center.
Plans call for an 80,000-square-foot, two-level building that will include a larger sports medicine room, multipurpose dining hall, new team lockers and equipment rooms, a player lounge, a team auditorium and position meeting rooms.
The current center has some of those elements but is undersized, at 49,800 square feet, to meet the needs of the football team, Utah coaches and school administrators say. The size has prevented the sports medicine area from expanding as it should and means the football team must eat its meals outside of the building in a tent.
The inadequacies are why Whittingham glosses over the current layout while showing recruits splashy pamphlets and plans describing what the future center should look like.
"That is our selling point," Whittingham said. "We show them what our starting point is for next year."
Persuading Utah athletic director Chris Hill to back the construction wasn't hard because he has heard the comments from recruits as well.
"Having a tent out in front isn't exactly an impressive thing," he said. "It's not good for the kind of menus you can get for nutrition, it's not a good environment and it's not a good recruiting technique. We've had this on the books for a while, but now there is a real urgency to get this done with us going to the Pac-12. We need this to get into the game."
Construction is set to begin in December and continue for a year and a half at an estimated cost of at least $16 million. All funds for the project are from private sources, Hill said. He estimated the Utes have raised 35 percent to 40 percent of the funds needed.
"People are excited about us going to the Pac-12 and they want us to compete," he said. "It's a matter of 'Are you big-time or are you not?' Recruits come to campus and say, 'Oh, this is not that great. This is not what it is at school X.' We want to make sure we take that off the table to help us recruit. Otherwise it puts us in a disadvantage."
The new building will feature major upgrades in the training room with an area dedicated to hydrotherapy and rehabilitation, and more lounges, dining halls and meeting rooms for athletes.
While the building might sound extravagant to some in an era of a sluggish economy and budget constraints, the Utes maintain they are merely keeping up with a trend on college campuses.
Oregon is expected to complete construction on a project that includes a 130,000-square-foot expansion of its athletic department in 2013, thanks to a donation by Phil and Penny Knight. USC is building a two-story, 110,000-square-foot building with an academic center, weight room and training room.
The Smith Center project is far more important, Hill said, than any possible stadium expansion, which he is often asked about by fans.
While Hill isn't opposed to expanding the stadium, that possible project in addition to plans for a basketball facility is several years out.
"Expanding the stadium always seems to be on the top of everyone's minds and we need to take a look at it, but our stadium is good and the actual size is good," he said. "People always have in their minds we can't get home and homes with someone because our stadium isn't big enough, but that has nothing to do with it. It all has to do with guarantees, and the size of our stadium doesn't hurt someone coming in and playing, but people don't get that.
"It's important for people to understand that this project now is the most important because our sports medicine area is woefully inappropriate. It doesn't have everything we need."