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Trib: USF facilities getting total makeover


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USF facilities getting total makeover

By SCOTT CARTER

scarter@tampatrib.com

Outside the windows of his office in the University of South Florida's Athletic Training Center this week, Bill McGillis' view consists of a large patch of intramural fields baking under the scorching July sun.

The fields are empty, except for a couple of runners and a pair of baseball players playing catch. In the distance, the unmistakable sounds of a construction site - dump trucks, bulldozers and other heavy machinery in the midst of their grueling work - fill the air.

What all those machines are doing is giving the Bulls athletic department a massive facelift, one of the largest undertaken on a single college campus at one time. A year from now, the view will be drastically different for McGillis, USF's executive associate athletic director.

It will be goodbye to the intramural fields and hello to a new 2,200-seat soccer stadium, which will be shaped like a bowl built into the ground and feature berm seating and a park-like atmosphere.

"I'll be looking right into the field over one goal," McGillis said. "It's going to be a super-intimate venue."

No matter which direction you turn at South Florida these days, you are likely to bump into someone wearing a hard hat if you're near where the school's "athletics district" is being built.

Construction crews began work June 7, and in little more than a month, they have knocked down Red McEwen Field, which hosted its final baseball game May 16, and cleared large amounts of land for the six major projects that will be completed during the next 11 months.

The construction has made a mess of the area around the Sun Dome and Bull Run Drive, but that's of little concern to those who call the USF athletic department home.

"We're all sharing history," said women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez.

"Every day they knock something down, it's a good day for USF," baseball coach Lelo Prado said shortly after watching the first bleachers knocked down at Red McEwen Field recently.

Long overdue

Since the day five years ago when South Florida officially joined the Big East Conference, upgrading the school's athletic facilities has been at the top of Athletic Director Doug Woolard's to-do list.

Woolard finally got the green light to move forward in early December when USF's Board of Trustees approved financing for the $30 million project. Since then, the athletics district project has grown to $33.5 million with the addition of the soccer stadium. McGillis said the final design of the soccer venue is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

If you take into account the $4.5 million dining hall/training table that is scheduled to be completed in June 2011, the total cost of the overhaul is $38 million, with no state funds being used. The athletic department is splitting the cost of the dining complex with the university.

"We must get our facilities up to speed," Woolard said. "I'm proud to tell you we've done it the right way, taking on no more debt that we can't afford."

The project is viewed as long overdue in the eyes of most USF officials, from the top down.

"In one year's time, the athletics landscape will be completely transformed," university president Judy Genshaft told the crowd at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Pam and Les Muma Basketball Center this spring. "We have waited on this, and now it's here."

While the Bulls football team plays at Raymond James Stadium, considered one of the finest venues in the NFL, the school's other programs have used subpar facilities for most of the past two decades.

Woolard and McGillis have spearheaded the plan that is in place, a project being constructed by Tampa-based firm R.R. Simmons and being designed by Populous, formerly part of the HOK design firm that has a long history of working on sports venues. Populous is also doing a feasibility study on updating the Sun Dome in the near future to put the finishing touches on the total makeover.

When the six facilities are completed - baseball, softball and soccer stadiums, a football practice facility, basketball practice center and the dining hall - USF will be better-positioned to recruit against state, national and Big East programs.

"I would say in a lot of cases our coaches have outcoached their facilities, outcoached their resources," McGillis said. "Really, I think it's kind of the last piece of the puzzle for this program to go from good to great.

"I also think it's going to enhance the level of pride for our student-athletes, the university community and our alumni."

A long road

Mitch Tandet still remembers when he arrived at South Florida in the fall of 1969 from New Rochelle, N.Y. Tandet wanted to escape the cold northern winters, so he ended up at a school he barely knew anything about.

Within weeks of being on campus, he walked into the gymnasium - the Sun Dome was still more than a decade from opening - and saw a poster advertising an equipment manager position on the men's basketball team, which was starting as a junior varsity program that fall.

Tandet remembers walking up to the school's first basketball coach, Don Williams, and asking about the position. Within a couple of minutes, Tandet had a job that only paid with memories.

The thought of USF joining a major conference or competing nationally in athletics never crossed Tandet's mind back then. In their early years, the teams often played home games at Curtis Hixon Hall in downtown Tampa, mostly to little fanfare from a still-growing student base.

"Soccer was the biggest sport at USF at that time," said Tandet, 59, who graduated from South Florida in 1974 and is a middle school math teacher in Broward County. "Homecoming revolved around a home soccer game. When I was there, they didn't even have a weight room."

One of Tandet's favorite memories during his time at USF was the first official NCAA basketball game, a 74-73 win at Stetson on Dec. 1, 1971. South Florida won on guard Bill Lear's last-second shot.

"He hit a shot right at the buzzer, and we celebrated in the locker room like we had just won the NCAA Tournament," Tandet said. "It was our first varsity game."

Fast forward more than 40 years, and Tandet was at Citi Field recently to take in a Mets game during a trip to New York to visit his daughter. He had a USF hat and shirt on at the game, and more than once, Tandet had someone shout "Go Bulls" his way.

He sees the current facelift as a well-deserved boost to the athletic department.

"A few years ago, that would never have happened," Tandet said. "We're nationally known, and that's not because of the botany department or the physics department. It's because of the athletics department."

A massive project

Not only is the number of simultaneous projects unusual, but also the timetable to complete the projects is almost as rare. The university did multiple studies to determine the best plan of attack, opting for a "design/build," according to McGillis.

That's when one team is formed under one contract - in this case, USF bringing in R.R. Simmons to build and RRS bringing on Populous to design.

R.R. Simmons owner Randy Simmons is optimistic the work will be finished by next summer - the baseball and softball stadiums are scheduled to be completed by the start of the seasons next spring - and that USF student-athletes, fans and community supporters will be impressed.

"It's definitely a management challenge," Simmons said. "The good thing is that it's all within a close proximity."

Simmons said he expects during peak building periods, more than 200 workers will be on site working on the project, with the basketball training center the most difficult to build.

"It has its share of challenges because we have to work adjacent to the Sun Dome," Simmons said. "It's going to be a very unique structure and absolutely first-class."

That's exactly what Bulls men's basketball coach Stan Heath wants to hear. Heath signed a new five-year contract last week and sees the Muma Basketball Center as a key piece to his program's evolution.

"It will change the perception of our basketball program nationally, and that's a huge thing," Heath said.

Ultimately, that's what the entire project is about. While the Bulls have had periodic success in sports over the years - most notably the men's soccer program, women's softball and the football team's climb to No. 2 in the national polls in 2007 - it has not had strong selling points for recruits when it came to facilities.

School officials see those days ending soon. McGillis can't wait to look out his office windows and see the proof.

"It's been five years in the making," McGillis said. "We're going to be able to recruit every day against Florida and Florida State. We'll be able to be more competitive in the Big East.

"This was going to get done."


Fields of Dreams

MORSANI FOOTBALL PRACTICE FACILITY

Includes plaza-style entrance that leads to three side-by-side full-length football fields

One field will feature an artificial surface

Fields to run north-south adjacent to the USF football offices in main athletic center, much closer to the team's locker rooms and weight room

Named after primary donor Frank Morsani

PAM AND LES MUMA BASKETBALL CENTER

50,000 square-foot structure located on south side of Sun Dome

Will feature all men's and women's basketball offices and locker rooms

Includes two practice courts and eight baskets on each court, separated by men's and women's training rooms

Named after primary donors Pam and Les Muma

BASEBALL STADIUM

Includes a shared plaza-style entrance with the softball stadium

Features a 1,500-seat grandstand and an overall capacity of 3,000

Includes a shade canopy over the grandstand seating and berm seating

SOFTBALL STADIUM

Features an 800-seat grandstand and overall capacity of 1,500

Berm seating beyond outfield wall to expand seating options for NCAA events

Includes an elevated hospitality deck overlooking third-base line

SOCCER STADIUM

Final addition to athletics district designed like a bowl built into the ground

Will seat approximately 2,200 and provide a very intimate feel for spectators

USF officials plan to include Park'' in official name because of unique design

DINING HALL/TRAINING TABLE

A 10,000- to 12,000-square-foot dining complex for all USF students

Part of project will serve as training table for USF student-athletes

An added bonus is its ventilation system will allow Sun Dome to expand concession offerings; Sun Dome is not ventilated, preventing cooking inside

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The only thing I would add is that in the early days of basketball, Curtis Hixon was the 'upscale' venue the for the Brahmans.  For real contrast, consider that Fort Homer Hesterly Armory was also one of the regular stops for home tilts.

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This is going to be so incredible. I can't wait to have a feeling of legitimacy for our Athletics program.

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So the report mentions the soccer stadium will seat 2200.

That makes far more sense than the 1000 seat capacity that people have mentioned before

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So the report mentions the soccer stadium will seat 2200.

That makes far more sense than the 1000 seat capacity that people have mentioned before

Well, it might be 1000 permanent seats with 1200 "seats" on the berms around the field.

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This is going to be so incredible. I can't wait to have a feeling of legitimacy for our Athletics program.

I agree... it's going to be great to visit campus and be a spectator in these new facilities.

The last two pieces will be a new or renovated Sun Dome... and an eventual on-campus football stadium.

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Too bad that USF and the TB Rowdies could not get on the same page with this.  The Rowdies claimed they wanted their own stadium, and tried to get one built, but instead are "renting" the Yankees spring training stadium. 

Partnering would have allowed them a better/bigger venue, located within 10 miles of 5 major area soccer clubs, and woudl have allowed both USF and FC Tampa to reduce their upfront costs.  It would have been a win-win, but with groups battling for control, it makes it really difficult I suppose.

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"Stadia mania" at USF...and I like it!

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I did not see a link anywhere of the complex diagrams, so I included it below. These facilities are going to be awesome!

http://media.tbo.com/tbo/pdfs/070910usfcomplex.pdf

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Awesome stuff going on at USF.

Then again, according to some of our friends at Central High these facilities would never be built. Considering we are not in debt up to our eyeballs, USF is in a great position for the future to build an OCS after the SunDome is renovated.

BTW, from what I've heard on campus, the renovated SunDome will be the BEST college basketball facility in the State of Florida.

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