A Place to Shine

January 29, 2015
Today's athletic facilities need to have both function and pizzazz, with a nod toward the future. The six projects profiled here exemplify the trend.
By Ali Nolan

Ali Nolan is an Assistant Editor at Athletic Management. She can be reached at:
[email protected]

Athletic programs across the country are looking for innovative ideas to utilize space while strengthening their institution's identity. They are striving to make a statement with their designs and advance their programs to another level.

Over the past year, several athletic departments have done just that, unveiling facilities that provide a big boost to their teams, from football to soccer to volleyball. In this article, we examine half a dozen new structures that have recently opened to boisterous applause.

All six athletic administrators who call these new facilities home highlighted a common theme: the future. In each case, the designs offer incentives to prospective student-athletes, while incorporating cutting-edge technological advances or forward-thinking sustainability ideas. In overhauling, renovating, or constructing new athletic spaces, those who worked to make these projects happen also built a stronger foundation on which their programs can continue to grow.

When Texas A&M University began play in the Southeastern Conference two years ago, it was well aware that its football support facilities trailed those of its league foes. This past summer, that shortcoming was rectified with the unveiling of an imposing 36,000 square-foot modernization of the Aggies' Bright Football Complex.

"In the 15 years since we built the original facility, other schools in the SEC have renovated their football areas two and three times," says Kevin Hurley, Associate Athletic Director for Facilities at Texas A&M. "The only thing we had done during that stretch was paint and patch. With the never-ending recruiting wars, we knew it was time for an update."

Paying attention to the needs and wants of its players, A&M created a technologically advanced luxury space that will appeal to potential recruits in many ways. But beyond the glitz, the new facility is designed to keep athletes healthy, feeling good, and playing at their peak.

The $20.8 million renovation overhauled every aspect of Bright, and includes meeting rooms, a nutrition center, sports medicine spaces, an area for academic support, as well as player locker rooms chock full of amenities. Spacious state-of-the-art lockers not only have charging docks for the players' mobile devices, but cooling compartments for their gear. On the top shelf, there is a small air conditioner that looks like a hockey puck on which players can place their helmets. There are also air-conditioned spaces for shoulder pads and cleats. "This will help things dry out quicker than they have in the past, which will reduce odor," says Hurley.

In another area of the locker room, the design team added a barbershop, asking players for their input to create an ideal atmosphere. "We have a lot of guys on the team who like to cut their own hair or cut each other's hair, and in the old locker room, they had brought in a barber chair and put it in our wet area," says Hurley. "Noticing that, we installed an area reminiscent of the barbershops these young men might go to back in their hometowns."

Audio-visual accessibility is an overpowering force in the new complex. Nearly 100 HD TVs adorn the facility, popping up in unexpected places like the hydrotherapy room and inside mirrors over each locker room sink. Additionally, above each athlete's locker, a ribbon board glows with his individual picture and player profile. Game day countdowns, historic photos, an interactive touch screen uniform display, and game highlights are streamed through video walls and the TV screens. All monitors can be programmed to change their displays and tell the story of A&M football though a variety of mediums.

Another big emphasis was improving athletic training areas. "In facility design, when going for the wow factor, rehabilitation spaces sometimes get left behind," says Hurley. "But we firmly believe in the importance of this area. One thing we increased significantly were the pools, which have greatly enhanced our ability to treat players on a day-to-day basis."

Behind glass doors and visible from the entrance of the athletic training room are hydrotherapy pools temperature controlled by waterfalls. Water pours down both sides of the walls, which are complemented by lighting effects, TVs, and a state-of-the-art sound system, creating a tranquil environment conducive to muscle recovery.

Hurley is excited about how the modernization will benefit current and future Aggie football stars. "We were able to go from the bottom rungs of the SEC in terms of our football support areas to the top two or three," he says. "I think it puts us in the position to argue that we offer the best in student-athlete support in the conference."

Nearly a decade ago, the Homewood-Flossmoor (Ill.) Community School District implemented a strategic facilities plan that called for the remodeling of several key buildings throughout its suburban Chicago campuses. This year, that plan benefited the high school's athletic department, updating a gymnasium and expanding a fieldhouse in a manner that is nothing short of extraordinary. "The space rivals that of better NCAA Division III facilities," says Athletic Director Dan Vosnos.

There was no denying that Homewood-Flossmoor High School (H-F) needed more space for athletics. With 75 sports teams and over 90 student activities, the aim from the start of the project was to build a complex large enough to contain multiple practices and events simultaneously and serve as the epicenter of the athletic department.

Before the renovation, team practices were scheduled through a rotating cycle that resulted in some athletes being at the school until 10 p.m. This year, every varsity sport, as well as intramural and club programs, can meet at the same time. "The building allows almost all of our teams to practice from 3 to 5:30 every day," says Vosnos.

Versatility may be the most welcomed aspect of the new two-story North Building, which opened in June of this year. The space includes a 200-meter, six-lane indoor track with four regulation-size basketball courts in the center. Nets can be set up on the inside courts for badminton, tennis, or volleyball, and large curtains allow each area to be sectioned off. Adjacent to the track is a 40x60-yard multi-use turf space to accommodate rained-out practices, as well as throwing events in track and field. The first floor also contains a dance room, complete with bars and mirrors, and a temperature-controlled wrestling practice area.

Overlooking the courts and track is a 9,000 square-foot fitness center with cardio and weight training equipment, a TRX station, as well as 20 yards of turf that teams can use for dynamic warm-ups, power-sleds, or even tire flips. The second floor also houses a room dedicated to cheerleading, with new mats for tumbling and 30-foot ceilings in one area for stunting and tosses.

The $28 million renovation is clearly benefiting team practices, but it is for the larger community as well. Over the summer, a camp took over the new facility, and Vosnos believes the impressions left on the younger population will benefit future generations of H-F athletes. "This place gives everyone a sense of pride," he says. "It will help our feeder programs and allow our younger students to visit and get to know H-F. Kids can come in and think, 'Someday I will put on the red and white. I want to be a Viking one day.'"

With the excitement of the men's World Cup still fresh, the University of Louisville could not have timed the opening of its Dr. Mark & Cindy Lynn Stadium more perfectly. In August, the school cut the ribbon to what it feels is the premier collegiate soccer complex in America.

"Both our men's and women's soccer programs have grown tremendously over the last 15 years," says Mark Jurich, Associate Athletic Director at Louisville. "Recently we've been focused on making a commitment to all our sports and wanted to construct a cutting-edge soccer facility with a high-quality playing area and top-of-the-line building materials."

The $18.5 million complex seats 5,300 fans and includes a $1 million natural turf playing surface. Inside the arena, there is a 15,500 square-foot training center, identical men's and women's locker rooms, and coaches' offices. At both coaches' requests, there is also an indoor warm-up area where players can run through agility and footwork drills before games.

Beyond including amenities for student-athletes, a goal of the project was to construct a facility that could replicate the European fan experience. "We challenged our architect to construct a stadium with a traditional European feel and infuse it with modern features," says Jurich. "For example, the players enter the field from the locker room through the seating section, which is similar to traditional Barclays Premier League games."

Just as important was to offer clear sight lines throughout the stadium. "No matter where you are, you have a view of the pitch," says Jurich. "So if you're in line for concessions, waiting for the restroom, or in the family room, you can see the action."

Additionally, fans can enjoy 575 feet of digital ribbon boards, announcing player information and Cardinal soccer trivia. "It rivals what you would see at any Major League Soccer stadium," says Jurich.

Another spectator amenity is the roofing canopy that extends the entire length of the main grandstand. Made from Teflon-coated fiberglass membrane, the roof shades seats from the sun and keeps fans dry in rainy weather, while projecting crowd noise onto the playing field.

Designed to encourage and reward a loyal fan base, the stadium includes many family-friendly elements. "We have a number of family zones," Jurich says. "For example, we have a mini field for kids to play on where their parents can still see the game."

With Louisville joining the Atlantic Coast Conference this year, the Cardinals are looking forward to Lynn Stadium's promotion of men's and women's soccer. On Aug. 29, a sell-out crowd packed the venue for the grand opening men's and women's doubleheader. "We're really excited about this facility," says Jurich. "It adds so much to the program's growth."

NCAA Division III powerhouse Williams College has won 17 of the last 19 NACDA Directors' Cup titles, including the last two. But for many years, its primary outdoor facility did not measure up to Eph athletes' accomplishments.

Plans to renovate legendary Weston Field originated in 2006, and included basic improvements like the installation of locker rooms and a few modernizations. The turnaround was supposed to be quick, with groundbreaking scheduled for fall 2007. But in not wanting to be hasty when altering the 128-year-old complex, members of the planning committee and athletic department decided to slow down.

"We realized we were rushing so we postponed it for a year," says Lisa Melendy, Athletic Director at Williams. "But then the economic downturn of 2008 came and the college wisely decided not to be in the process of a multimillion dollar project until we knew things were going to improve."

Though the tired facilities at Weston Field continued to decay, the planning committee used the six-year interim to reevaluate the project. "We figured out how we could do better without spending a lot more money," says Melendy.

The college was committed to keeping the facility to scale, meeting LEED-gold sustainability standards, and highlighting Weston's natural surroundings. As a result, the new facility and fields have an open, pastoral feel. "Williams is situated in a gorgeous area of western Massachusetts and we wanted to take advantage of that," says Melendy. "The views from the fields are really breathtaking.

"We also wanted to maximize green spaces and minimize pavement," she continues. "We couldn't have a massive, overpowering athletic facility in a rural, mountain town, and we wanted our fields to feel welcoming. It was important that the new Weston felt like a place where people would want to come and exercise and walk around--not just our varsity athletes, but the whole community."

For practices and competitions, there are two new lighted artificial turf fields. One is for football and men's and women's lacrosse and has longer synthetic grass, while the other is home to the Eph field hockey team, with shorter blades. The short-blade field has an eight-lane track around it that replaced the old unusable track, and small changes, like on-site storage for hurdles and field equipment, are increasing practice efficiency.

"We haven't been able to host a track meet in a long time, and now we'll be able to host championship events," says Melendy.

Along with the updated outdoor spaces, the renovated site, opened in September, now offers a 26,000 square-foot team support building. It features multiple locker rooms, multipurpose areas, and a sports medicine center with two hydrotherapy pools. Additionally, a new press box now crowns the football field.

While moving forward and improving facilities for future athletes, Williams decided to also highlight the history of old Weston Field by inviting alumni to write their memories about it on the athletics website. "We wanted to bridge the gap between the past and present," Melendy explains. "We felt it was important to learn from and honor the stories of former athletes, and in doing so, remind ourselves that playing on Weston Field makes us part of an ongoing tradition."

The athletic staff at The Northwest School in Seattle are used to being creative. For years, they operated with off-site athletic facilities, often loading teams onto buses and using local fields or college campuses as practice and game sites. The school even created a partnership and renovated a gymnasium at a nearby church so Northwest squads could have more space. For Athletic Director Britt Atack, it was just part of the job. "We learned to be resourceful," he says. "We managed to make it work."

Yet after years of "making it work," Atack smiles with satisfaction when describing Northwest's new addition. Named 401 East Pike after its address, the multipurpose center houses a regulation-sized basketball court, a fitness center, and Seattle's largest rooftop field. "Being able to really, truly host games is just awesome," says Atack.

The challenge in designing the facility was fitting everything Northwest needed into an urban space's conservative footprint. But just as limitations had forced Atack to be spatially creative before, the small lot had him thinking outside the box, literally. "The rooftop field wasn't part of the original plan," he says. "At some point I said, 'I've heard of rooftop fields before. We're going to have a roof. Why not utilize it?'

"I knew it would be an extra cost," Atack continues. "But we figured if it was within a reasonable range, then we should explore it to the hilt."

The 6,000 square-foot field is not regulation size for soccer or Ultimate Frisbee, the two teams that will use it most frequently, but will provide an on-campus practice area for them. The space has an artificial turf field and chain-link-like safety netting fastened onto metal girders. Northwest and the architects worked together to ensure the area is safe, padding the perimeter and making sure there is no way for anyone to climb up and out.

Inside the building, space constraints continued to be a concern, especially when it came to the basketball court. "We felt we had to prioritize and build a gym that would be big enough for high school games," says Atack. "To do that, we had to hold back on spectator seating. So we have three rows of bleachers, which seats 120. On big game nights, we can pack 230 people in the gym using the standing room next to the bleachers. We can also open the mezzanine above the gym, where the new fitness center is. It gets loud and fun and makes for an electric atmosphere."

With an eye on sustainability, the gymnasium incorporates daylighting strategies that were developed in collaboration with the University of Washington's Integrated Design Lab. The gym's windows are glazed and situated in places where daylight is optimized and glare is minimized.

"On sunny days, people play on the court with no lights on at all," says Atack. "The paint and light work toward making this a vibrant space. Some gyms have this somber feel, but here, it's bright and welcoming.

"The whole building embodies Northwest's element," Atack says. "The design is edgy but not ostentatious. It's utilitarian and functional. It's also practical, which is what's most important."

Barely a week goes by without an athletic department announcing the construction of a new practice facility for football or basketball. At the University of Tennessee, administrators have taken the concept to the sport of volleyball.

While the Lady Vols play their home games in the 7,500-seat Thompson-Boling Arena, they've never had a practice facility to call their own. Sometimes they shared court space with UT's basketball teams, spending as many minutes setting up and taking nets down as they did practicing. Other times, their practices were forced to off-campus facilities.

In 2013, Athletic Director Dave Hart implemented Tennessee's Campaign for Comprehensive Excellence, a three-year fundraising challenge to enhance the lives of student-athletes. From the beginning, a facility dedicated to volleyball was at the top of the list. Even so, veteran Head Volleyball Coach Rob Patrick had to be patient. "It was a process," he says. "The plans evolved from being an indoor track with a volleyball facility to just a volleyball facility."

The original architectural sketches were tossed aside in large part due to the proposed structure's overwhelming size. Administrators found that by keeping the building's footprint small, there were more options for where it could be situated.

At last, in February 2014, contractors broke ground on an on-campus plot of land adjacent to UT's Regal Soccer Stadium. Opening in late September and named after recently retired Women's Athletic Director Joan Cronan, the $3 million project contains three courts spaced 15 feet apart, which allows multiple practice situations to occur at the same time.

"Other facilities often squeeze the courts together," says Patrick. "But a lot of what we practice in volleyball--whether it is a jump serve, long approaches, or wide outside hitting--requires space around the court. In a traditional three-court area, you might be able to use the two outside courts for practice and then to scrimmage you take down the net and switch the direction of the court. In our new practice area, that space is built in. Having all three courts usable all the time allows us to train at a higher level."

Another feature that enhances practices is the installation of cameras on each court. "The best way for coaches to evaluate film is if the camera is set up in the end zone," says Patrick. "So on the walls behind all three courts we have cameras, which are hooked to our film room."

The on-court cameras feed directly to a large flat screen monitor in the viewing room that has angled theater seating. "With a flip of a button, we are recording and we have everything we need to analyze our playing," Patrick says.

The Joan Cronan Volleyball Practice Facility also includes coaches' offices, a conference area, on-site laundry, an oval-shaped locker room, and a team room complete with couches, computers, a television, and a pool table. Patrick is excited about how the new space will help in recruiting.

"We can now show off the success stories of Tennessee volleyball," he says. "We'll have our trophies on display as well as posters and banners celebrating our All-Americans, Final Four teams, and conference championships. Having a state-of-the-art facility is really going to allow us to take our program up another notch."
SEARCH for Products
SEARCH for Vendors

Lockers That Work

Looking for lockers for your team rooms? All-Star sport lockers from List Industries have raised the bar with their quality, functionality, and durability. All-Star locker feature List’s exclusive Hollow-T framing system that has ½” 13-gauge flattened expanded metal sides for maximum ventilation, safety, and rigidity. Plus, interlocking body components create a sturdy sports locker that … CLICK TO READ MORE...

Moving Up to the Pros

After years of success serving the college athletic market, G2L Window Systems got the call up to the pros. A G2L system was installed in one of the suites at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles. G2L Window Systems feature frameless, open-air design that allows fans to enjoy the sounds and smells of … CLICK TO READ MORE...

Record Boards Suited for the Diamond

Baseball and softball season is just around the corner, so this a perfect time to think about the best way celebrate the accomplishments of these teams. Austin Plastics & Supply offers a large variety of record display boards designed specifically for baseball and softball. Most focus on individual season and career records for pitching and … CLICK TO READ MORE...