If Georgia wasn’t already in the SEC’s facilities race, the Bulldogs are now fully immersed and making a move toward the front of the pack.
The UGA Athletic Association’s board of directors, at its fall meeting Friday, unanimously approved Athletic Director Greg McGarity’s proposal to add an $80 million football operations building to the Bulldogs’ already sprawling football complex. The 165,000-square foot facility will be added to the existing Butts-Mehre building, so it has been deemed a renovation-and-expansion project.
“It's a great day for Georgia,” said McGarity, who had been at a Terry College building dedication Friday morning and was heading to the Dooley Field banquet at the Tate Center after the board meeting. “It’ll be a facility will all can be proud of and it’s really second to none.”
The new addition will give fourth-year football coach Kirby Smart another shiny toy to show recruits. Since Smart was tabbed as Georgia’s coach in December 2015, the Bulldogs have built the $30.5 million Payne Indoor Athletic Facility and the $63 million West End locker room and recruiting lounge at Sanford Stadium. The board’s latest gift brings that total to nearly $174 million.
UGA President Jere Morehead said he doesn't see that as excessive.
“When Greg and I made that announcement (they were hiring Smart as head coach), we made it clear that the university was committed to the success of our athletic program and we are,” he said.
The facility, described by presenter Josh Brooks as “cutting edge for efficiency and functionality,” will be built in two phases, the first of which will begin in January and will limit the Bulldogs to one outdoor practice field and one indoor field for the next two seasons. The second phase will not impact field use and will be completed before the 2022 season.
Football fans are excited about the progress of the program under Smart, who has led the Bulldogs to a 33-10 record since arriving from Alabama. So donations -- and the number of donors -- continues to increase.
McGarity said there are now 1,050 members of the Magill Society, who pledge at least $25,000 to the school over a five-year period. That has helped the UGA development staff has already raised more than $30 million toward this project. Board of Regents construction policy dictates that half the funds for a new building must be raised through private means. McGarity expects that threshold not only to be achieved, but easily exceeded.
“It speaks to the power of the Georgia supporters,” McGarity said. “We have not had to take on any long-term debt because of members of the Magill Society. It has not increased our debt service at all. Donations are coming in as promised and we're on track to do great things in that area.”
McGarity said Georgia is “in the area of $100 million” in its long-term debt. “In the world of college athletics is very low, among the lowest in the conference.”
So what are Smart and the Bulldogs getting for those big bucks?
Brooks, McGarity's deputy athletic director, said the new building will be three stories tall. Construction crews will have to dig down through the ground to place the first floor even with the lower Woodruff Practice Fields and the bottom floor of the indoor building. The new structure will be built in the architectural motif of the Payne Center.
Inside the new building, there will be new coaches’ offices, an expansive locker room and a “wow area” of a players' lounge in the center of the facility. Also included will be a new sports-medicine area, a new grab-and-go nutrition area and a “multi-purpose space” to entertain recruits and hold other functions.
The biggest selling point for Smart to recruits is the weight room. At more than 22,000-square feet, it's twice the size of the existing weight room and will provide twice the lifting platforms with 32.
Athletic board member Jon Stinchcomb, a football letterman who played offensive line for the Bulldogs from 1999-2002, was “blown away” by the new digs, though somewhat taken aback by the cost.
“What I like most about the project is it seems very functional for the players,” Stinchcomb said. “As a former student-athlete, I liked there weren't a lot of water-slides and silly stuff like that. It was designed with idea of making it efficient for the time demands that are placed on these student-athletes. I wouldn't describe it as excessive. I'll just say it's very, very nice.”
The board’s actions Friday are not merely a show of support for Smart. Since the advent of the SEC’s TV network, money has been pouring into the conference by the hundreds of millions. The revenue share for Georgia and the member institutions currently is in the $45 million-a-year range.
Being a non-profit institution, UGA is merely doing what all the other SEC schools are doing, and that’s spending the money on facilities. SEC Eastern Division rivals Florida and South Carolina have recently opened $50 million football facilities. LSU just christened a new $23 million football locker room, and Alabama and Texas A&M long have been out front in building massive and expensive football facilities.
Brooks also updated the board on multi-million dollar new-facility projects for tennis and equestrian. An ongoing $8 rebuild of the tennis grandstand is due to be completed in February. Equestrian just finished building a $3 million facility.
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