Finally in the works
After years of negotiation, FSU will break ground on new indoor practice facility
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- During construction, the parking in front of Doak Campbell Stadium will disappear. Florida State's bowl practices will be shifted to alternate venues, the famed sod cemetery will need to be relocated, and final design plans for the exterior aesthetic of the new indoor practice facility are still being debated.
"If you take the financing out of it, we would've been ready to roll three to five years ago," said Bernie Waxman, Florida State's associate athletics director for facility planning, operations and event management. "We've been talking about it for a while."
Groundbreaking on the building, which when completed will house more than 100,000 square feet of indoor practice space for Florida State's football team, is set to begin after the conclusion of the regular season, although it could be pushed back a week to account for the Seminoles' potential appearance in the ACC championship game.
Construction costs are estimated at about $12.7 million, with pledges from donors covering the costs, and the hope is that the facility will be ready for use when Florida State opens fall camp next August.
"It's a very aggressive schedule, and our construction manager knows that it's an aggressive schedule," Waxman said. "If they have to work seven days a week, if we have to turn some lights on, they know it's going to be tough."
Of course, an aggressive construction schedule is only the frenzied conclusion to what has been a painstaking process.
When the facility is finished, it won't be too far removed from those original sketches Waxman and his team envisioned in the early stages of the process, but turning those plans into a reality has taken immense effort.
Discussions for the facility have been kicked around for years, with the project considered by many to be a necessity for a competitive football program in an area where weather is a daily obstacle. The price tag, however, made the facility something of a luxury item -- one many elite programs already enjoy, but hardly a necessary piece to a championship puzzle.
The balance in priorities shifted in the past year, however, as athletic department leaders have campaigned for the funding and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher made clear the impact that practices lost to weather can have on his team.
"Conceptually, it was more of an idea, but the urgency came by missing [extensive practices] and some other issues," senior associate athletics director Monk Bonasorte said. "This is what we need to move to the level that our competition is."
While financing offered one obstacle, finding a location for the facility and a design that would blend with the campus aesthetic provided more hurdles.
The current practice fields adjacent to Doak Campbell Stadium provide an oasis of green among the brick architecture along Stadium Drive on the west side of campus. Dropping what amounts to an oversized barn in the middle of that would've been an eyesore.
Waxman's team considered an array of options for the location, but in the end determined that putting the facility at any significant distance from the current practice fields defeated the primary purpose of the project. That shifted the goal to finding a way to blend the facility in as seamlessly as possible -- a challenge still ongoing even as construction is set to begin.
"The challenge for us was trying to build something that fits architecturally within the concept of what the rest of the university is, and it's really hard," Waxman said. "It's almost impossible. You end up spending more money on the outside than you do on the inside."
Florida State officials got a firsthand look at potential options during visits to Duke and UCF last season, and a team traveled to Auburn to inspect the Tigers' indoor facility.
The result of those trips was a decision to ensure an appealing exterior while keeping the interior of the facility as utilitarian as possible.
"This is pretty much a practice facility," Bonasorte said. "It's not a place where you're going to come in and entertain people, office space. You have the essentials. What you need to perform a practice, and that's pretty much it."
The final plans put the facility near the north end of where the practice fields are now, running perpendicular to them. To the south, about 200 feet of the parking lot will be removed to ensure space for two full outdoor practice fields, with additional parking spaces added to the west, along Stadium Drive. When all is said and done the school will lose about 40 parking spots, but the football team will have three full practice fields -- two outdoor, one indoor -- on which to practice.
The indoor facility will include a small area for trainers to work and some storage, but the bulk of the space will be used entirely for workouts and walkthroughs.
"It's going to be exciting to see our ideas come to life," Waxman said. "You have a concept in your mind, but until it's out there and you start living and breathing it, you don't always know exactly how it's going to be."
Fisher has little doubt the indoor facility will be a marked improvement for his program.
During his days as an assistant coach at LSU, his teams used the school's indoor practice facility nearly half the time for purposes far beyond simply escaping inclement weather.
"It allows you to get consistency in your program," Fisher said. "It allows you to have a lot of consistency in practice, offseason, developing your players, a facility for offseason workouts, but it also helps you academically, helps in recruiting, it's going to help all the way around the board."
It will help during August, which is notoriously tempermental in Florida. The heat and humidity are oppressive, and the rain comes like clockwork. If there's a lightning strike within a few miles, practice grinds to a halt. Players pack up their pads and helmets and head inside to wait, and the rest of the day's plans -- tutoring, study hall, dinner -- are shuffled accordingly.
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It's impossible to say how many yards or points or games all of that standing around might cost Florida State during a season, if there's any effect at all.
While Fisher isn't interested in predicting the weather, he does understand the level of competition his team faces, and he knows what a $12.7 million investment might bring.
"It shows your commitment to excellence here," Fisher said. "Does it make you win a championship? No. But when you're [recruiting] a guy to come from three states away or bypass two schools right there having success -- these guys are really committed to win. You've got to have things to draw them here."
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