University of Arkansas football center could be completed by early 2013

Fayetteville ( - Arkansas has been very active in improving existing football facilities since Bobby Petrino took over the program. During the last three years, graphics have been added to spruce up blank walls, video equipment was upgraded and Reynolds Razorback Stadium had field turf and ribbon boards installed.

Minor fixes are only part of what Petrino had in mind, however. Almost immediately after arriving, Petrino posted preliminary plans inside the Broyles Athletic Center for a long-term solution to what he saw as an outdated and undersized operations center.

Petrino won't have to wait much longer.

Groundbreaking could begin as early as April on the 80,000-square-foot football facility with completion set for January 2013, according to documents obtained by through a Freedom of Information Act request. Also outlined in the documents, which include an Oct. 20 letter to athletic department and university facilities management officials, are more details on how lead architect Populous Inc. will improve what it calls "inadequacies the football program has in the current location."

Preliminary estimates are for the project to take 18 months from groundbreaking with a cost between $24 million and $35 million. The two-story facility will be built on the current site of the outdoor football practice fields, south of Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Arkansas' football program is tentatively scheduled to add more than 15,000 square feet of space and will centralize operations, which are currently spread out over three separate structures located on Razorback Road.

"It will give us the best possible facility you can have to teach and learn and be able to demonstrate," Petrino said. "I can't say enough about how it's going to help us be a better football team, be a better student-athlete.
It will help us in recruiting when everyone comes to campus and will be able to see that."

Preliminary plans call for 7,800 square feet of athletic training space, including dental, eye and cardiology exam rooms and a hydrotherapy room. Currently, the UA has 5,600 fewer square feet for training room operations.

Other major upgrades in space include more than 3,410 square feet added to the team locker room and shower area, an additional 3,160 square feet of equipment room and a 3,800-square-foot player lounge. An additional five rooms and 1,323 square feet of meeting space are part of the plans. (See chart for additional details).

All football operations, including coaches' offices and a museum, will be housed within the facility, which will be attached to the existing weight room and indoor practice area. Populous Inc. project manager Ryan Sickman described in the Oct. 20 memo he hopes to end a "disconnect from the rest of the program's facilities."

It's a costly and ambitious project, but Athletic Director Jeff Long said because of Petrino's success, the time is right to improve the operations center. Petrino guided Arkansas to a 10-2 regular season record and a potential Sugar Bowl berth in his third season.

"It's transformational for our football program," Long said. "You get certain windows of opportunity and I think we have a great opportunity with Coach Petrino. What he's done, where he's built our program. … It's time for us."

Populous Inc. outlined a timetable for the project in the Oct. 20 letter. A full design development package is to be prepared by March 25, 2011, with bidding for construction completed by Aug. 26, 2011, and project completion by Jan. 31, 2013. An elevated practice field above Parking Lot 67 on the UA campus is to be built by "summer 2012."

Long said when the project was announced that he hoped funding would be secured from private donations.  However, the athletic department has reviewed more than 80 pages worth of bond proposals put together by Public Financial Management Inc., a Memphis firm.

Regardless from where the money comes, the UA is scheduled to pay Populus for its services on a schedule that began in November and concludes January 2013, the proposed completion date. Long has said he does not anticipate money to be an issue.

The UA has $12 million on hand, including a $10 million grant from the Reynolds Foundation, the same group that helped fund a large portion of the costs for Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Other donations totaling in the neighborhood of $2 million have also been secured.

"We would not announce this if we did not believe we could be successful raising the funds. This facility will happen. It will occur," Long said. "It's only a matter of time until we have those funds in hand and go back to the board of trustees, get their final approval and move on with the project."

Petrino seems pleased with what has been proposed.

"The design is going to be awesome," Petrino said.