UI wants $20 million football practice facility


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Iowa could begin construction on a new indoor football practice facility as early as next year, with a price tag of $19.5 million for phase one, Athletics Director Gary Barta said Thursday.

Barta will present the first stage of the two-step project to the state Board of Regents for approval on Dec. 9.

The first phase would replace the team's existing facility, which Barta said is severely outdated, and the university would turn the location of the existing Bubble into a hospital parking lot. The new structure would be erected west of the Recreation Building.

The second stage — which is still a ways from becoming a reality — would renovate the squad's locker rooms, strength and conditioning centers, and meeting rooms.

According to the agenda for next week's state regents' meeting, they will vote on whether to approve "the schematic design, project description and budget … with the understanding that approval will constitute final board approval and authorization to proceed with construction."

Regent Robert Downer couldn't be reached for comment, but Barta said he's optimistic the regents will agree to the plan while noting that nothing is certain.

"I'm hopeful we'll get approval, and I feel good about it — but I won't assume it until it's given," he said.

Phase one would cost $19.5 million, although only $14 million would pay for the actual construction. The difference will be used for preparing the sites for the second step of the project.

The entire endeavor, which is being funded by the athletics department and private donors, is estimated to cost between $40 million and $50 million.

Barta declined to specify what the new facility would look like — the artists' renderings that have been displayed in the lobby of the football offices won't necessarily reflect the exact schematics — but said he's visited several equivalent sites around the country, and they all look roughly the same from the inside. The exteriors, he said, depend on the location.

"[These facilities] are substantial in size, but they're not complicated to build," said Barta, who presided over similar projects at Wyoming and Washington. "They don't take a significant amount of construction time — 12 to 18 months."

The AD said he hopes construction on the latest project would begin in 2011.

The 25-year-old Bubble was originally intended to be used for 10 to 12 years, and Barta said the model has fallen far behind the modern standard.

Critics have also cited potential dangers involved with temporary structures such as the Bubble, especially after a similar facility collapsed in Dallas last year. Indeed, the Bubble has sustained some damage over its lifespan, although Damian Simcox, the Iowa director of athletics facilities, told ESPN.com's Amy K. Nelson that a new dome installed in 1998 has made the complex stronger and easier to fix in the event of damage.

Barta said one can't forget the role the building has played in shaping Iowa athletics. The facility has housed Hawkeye football since the Hayden Fry era, and has been used by several other Black and Gold teams and numerous intramural events.

"[The Bubble] has served a great, great purpose," Barta said. "We're going to miss the Bubble, shed a tear, and then be thankful we have today's latest and greatest, in terms of a facility we can use."

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