UF's O'Dome renovations scheduled
Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 5:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 5:01 p.m.
The $45 million O'Connell Center renovation project is moving on to the designing phase.
The University Athletic Association made the decision to move forward with the project, approving $2.75 million Tuesday for designing fees. An architect will be hired shortly and the new design for the O'Connell Center will be drawn up.
“Today, boom, let's go,” UF athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “They're going to finalize hiring an architect and then we start designing.”
The $2.75 million for designing fees is part of the $103.3 million budget for 2014-15 that was approved by the UAA Board of Directors on Tuesday. The board also approved $1.75 million for designing fees for the renovation and expansion of the Office of Student Life and $450,000 for turf renovations on the football practice field.
Of the three projects, the O'Connell Center is the biggest and will come with an estimated price tag of $45 million, with about $35 million being generated by UAA and another $10 million by the university. Foley said the UAA and UF are on target to meet their funding goal in the next few weeks, but still need to raise about $15 million more, he said, before construction begins.
The complete renovation of the O'Connell Center is set to begin at the conclusion of the 2014-15 basketball season and be complete by Jan. 1, 2016.
“You walk in there, it's going to be a brand new building,” Foley said. “The outside will remain in place. But we're going to seriously gut the place — new (chairback) seating, new restrooms, concessions, a concourse, new scoreboard, new entranceways.
“That's what you hire an architect for, to let them determine all the things that you can do. To me, it's not a Band-Aid approach. It's a building that can be renovated and will last us for another 30-40 years.”
The O'Connell Center opened in 1980 and has served as the home for the men's and women's basketball teams, the volleyball team, the gymnastics team, the indoor track teams and the swimming teams and has played host to numerous other events, including graduation.
“The O'Connell Center is a project that is a university building and we appreciate the UAA taking the lead in fundraising to make that happen,” UF president Bernie Machen said. “The building opened in 1980 and it's tired and it needs to be upgraded.
“We definitely want to remain where we are in the center of our campus and in the center of our student life. So, we never entertained anything other than renovating this wonderful structure and making it better.”
With construction set to begin in March of 2015 and expected to take 10 months, coach Billy Donovan's basketball team is going to have to play its fall schedule in 2015 at various neutral sites around the state, including Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville, three cities where the Gators have played in the past.
“We'll start figuring that out,” Foley said. “The basketball schedule for 2015-16 is being worked on as we speak. At some point, now that we know (the renovation is going forward), (associate athletic director) Mike Hill will sit down with Billy and say, 'This is what we need to do.'
“We've received a lot of interest from different cities from around the state. We'll piece it together. The conversation will start now and be finalized over the next seven to eight months.”
As the for renovations to the Office of Student Life, Foley said an architect could be hired sometime in July and the project could be complete 18 months after that.
Foley said the new Office of Student Life could be a “game-changer” for UF athletics.
“As you go forward in the recruiting process, the academic component is bigger and bigger and bigger,” Foley said. “The type of athletes we're recruiting, they want to know who they're playing for, they want to know what position they're going to play and they want to know how they're going to get educated. Parents want that, too.
“We've done a good job of that, but you're trying to keep that competitive edge. Nothing, to me, gives a better competitive edge than showing people, you come to Florida, look at their commitment to academics. Look at the type of academic institution it is, look at the type of degree you're going to get. Look how they care.
“You get really good students who are really good athletes, you've got a chance to be really successful. We've had that, but that building was built when I first became A.D. You're talking 20 years old now.”
In other news coming out of the board of directors meeting:
*UAA will donate $3.5 million to UF from its revenues, a drop of $500,000 from last year. That's $79.5 million the total returned to the school since 1990.
*Foley said season tickets for football are selling well. “They're good, keeping pace to what they were a year ago. Gator fans are amazingly consistent. Their loyalty has been that way for as long as I've been here. Our loyal fan base … they're not wavering at all,” Foley said. According to the 2014-15 budget, football ticket sales will generate about $22.5 million in revenue, while basketball ticket sales will generate $2.5 million.
*Foley said UF is close to hiring a men's golf coach to replace Buddy Alexander, who resigned at the end of this past season. Foley said associate athletic director Mike Spiegler has already interviewed four candidates and will interview two more. “(Alexander) left some big shoes to fill. We're in the process of trying to fill those shoes,” Foley said. “We're going to have a great choice. There's a lot of interest, as you can imagine. We hope to have a decision by this weekend or Monday at the latest.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.