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How Iowa’s facilities projects almost took a different route

[ 0 ] August 18, 2013 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The devastating punch of Hurricane Katrina played an unexpected role in the current construction of Iowa’s Football Operations Center, now being built on the ground just northwest of Kinnick Stadium.

Sprucing up and expanding the weight room was the original plan in 2006, but the storm that ravaged the Gulf Coast placed everything on hold.

“We had the blueprints, a starting date and all that, and it got delayed,” Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Because of the hurricane, we couldn’t get steel.”

That’s when Gary Barta, then in his first year as Iowa’s director of athletics, recalls thinking, “Maybe we need to think bigger than this.”

Iowa officials toured several campuses over a two-year span, including Penn State, Michigan State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas A&M., looking at indoor facilities, operations centers and stadiums.

“For awhile, we were headed down the path of renovation,” Barta said.

But instead of knocking down walls and adding to existing structures, and with Iowa’s indoor practice bubble long in the tooth, the pause button was hit again.

“Kirk and I both thought to ourselves, ‘If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right,’<TH>” Barta said.

Which brings us to the Football Operations Center, the second phase of a $55 million project. Scheduled to open late next summer, the two-level, 76,000-square-foot project will include exhibit space dedicated to Iowa’s football history; a strength training facility; team locker rooms; coaches offices; athletic training facilities; and an equipment room.

Phase 1 was the indoor facility that opened last fall. From the Kenyon Outdoor Practice Facility just north of the indoor facility, through the operations center and then a short walk further south to Kinnick Stadium, Iowa’s football program makes a straight-line statement: The Hawkeyes are keeping up with the facility arms race that is major college athletics today.

“I think all of us are happy we circled the wagons a little bit and rethought the thing out,” Ferentz said. “Just in terms of our responsibility to the program for the next 30, 40, 50 years. I think this is a step that clearly had to be done. It’s funny how things work out sometimes.”

Keeping up in the facilities race is a staggering venture financially, but it’s a must when it comes to the lifeblood of any sport — recruiting.

In the past decade, Iowa has spent $90 million on a two-year restoration and renovation at Kinnick Stadium that was completed in 2006.

Another $9 million was invested in new scoreboards, video boards and a ribbon display fans will see for the first time when the Hawkeyes open the season against Northern Illinois on Aug. 31.

Carver-Hawkeye Arena also underwent a $47 million makeover that included renovation and the addition of a practice facility that was completed in 2011.

Ferentz recalls a visit from Jim Render, the head football coach at his alma mater, Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, several years back.

“This is your office?” Ferentz recalled Render saying. “He kind of made fun of it. It’s not a bad office. But he had been to Penn State and Pittsburgh, and seen what major college offices and facilities looked like. He wasn’t being disrespectful. But it did resonate with me that we were a little behind. One of my snapshot moments.”

Of the $55 million needed for both phases of the football facility, $20 million came from departmental funds. The other $35 million is coming from fundraising.

More than $32 million has been raised so far, Barta said, and any money that comes in beyond the $3 million still needed will go to reduce the pinch on those departmental funds. Iowa raised a record $28 million for athletics last year.

It’s taken awhile for Iowa football’s new home go from blueprint to reality. There was the flood of 2008, which was devastating to many university facilities. There was also an economic downturn that same year. Then came fundraising for the Carver-Hawkeye Arena project. Fundraising for the football project started two years ago.

That’s when Barta, realizing the bubble was on its last leg, decided to break the project into two phases. The indoor facility was built first in 2012, providing more time to raise the rest of the money needed for Phase 2.

That second phase will be a state-of-the-art operations facility, complete with the bells and whistles that will help recruits listen carefully to the Hawkeyes’ pitches.

“Do we necessarily need ‘X’ amount of square feet? Probably not,” Ferentz said. “We have ample square feet now. But it’s like anything else. A big part of what we do is based on recruiting. Young people look at facilities.”

The facilities race never ends. Barta has nothing written on paper in terms of the next project, though he mentioned an expansion of premium seating at Kinnick Stadium is on his wish list.

“I have to make sure that we’re looking to the future,” Barta said.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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