New football practice facility construction on track

BY SETH ROBERTS | JUNE 28, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa football team's new indoor practice facility — a replacement for the ancient, outdated, and recently deflated Bubble — is still about a month away from becoming usable.

But the Hawkeyes don't seem to mind the wait.

"Anything would beat the Bubble — that's definitely for sure," safety Tanner Miller said with a smile. "On some of these 95-, 100-degree days, it was a nightmare in there."

The new facility's state-of-the-art green heating and cooling system seems to be an important advantage over the Bubble, at least to the players. The old building was made from fabric that turned the Bubble into a sauna in the summer; the upgrade features insulated metal panels for walls and several large garage doors that allow breezes to drift through the facility.

Nineteen miles of tubing below the turf of the new building will serve as an energy efficient, enormous radiant floor heating system in the winter.

While the Hawkeye players said Wednesday that they're looking forward to avoiding the suffocating heat of the Bubble, Iowa Senior Associate Athletics Director Jane Meyer said the project will be most useful for its effect on the football program's recruiting.

"We know how important the facilities are to getting the best athletes," she said. "… We want to make sure we have the facilities that compete in the Big Ten. We believe this facility does."

Officials from the football program and Athletics Department traveled to several Big Ten schools and NFL programs to observe their facilities and piece together a design, Meyer said; she noted trips to Michigan State, Michigan, and the New England Patriots.

The 102,000-square-foot building is part of a major $19.5 million reinvention of the area around Kinnick Stadium that also included renovations to the UI's transportation and hospital facilities. A second phase of the project will create new locker and meeting rooms for the football team, as well as a strength and conditioning center and offices for the Hawkeye coaching staff.

Phase II is slated for completion in August 2014, although planning has not yet been completed.

Framework for the facility started going up in March, and head coach Kirk Ferentz said watching it rise out of the ground every day has been an "energizing" experience.

"My wife is out of town, so I was here a little bit later [than usual] last week; I wandered out and the Sun was going down, and it struck me what a beautiful building it is," he said.

And now that completion is in sight — the field goals and video platforms have been installed, and one of the only remaining steps is spreading a load of black rubber pellets on the turf — even Ferentz couldn't resist a dig at the Bubble that stood behind Kinnick for 27 years.

"You get forced in [the Bubble] during camp or during the summer with thunderstorms, it's not a lot of fun," Ferentz said. "… It served its purpose and was on the cutting edge back in the day. That was old school.

"Now we're into a new school, and this new school looks pretty good."

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