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University of Cincinnati sports complex adds practice fields

Project includes indoor practice bubble during winter months

By John Bach

March 17, 2010

The University of Cincinnati's Varsity Village is expanding from Nippert Stadium all the way to Jefferson Avenue.

A day after UC officials held a press event to formally kickoff the project, earthmovers began digging into the northeast corner of main campus to transform the space, including two surface lots, into the Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex.

Phase one of the $15.5 million project is set for completion by September 2010 and will include 50- and 100-yard lighted practice fields, the larger of which will be covered by an air-supported bubble during winter months. The venue will serve as year-round practice space for varsity teams, particularly UC's football team, one of only a few Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Div. 1) programs in the country that still practices on its playing field. The complex will also become the competitive home for UC women's lacrosse.

"This facility will allow us to recruit and retain the best student athletes," says Mike Thomas, UC athletics director. "I see this not only being the difference maker for us but eliminating the disparity between us and those we compete against in the Big East Conference."

Thomas said the "world-class athletics classroom" would have an impact beyond the boundaries of the university as he intends to open it up for use by the community.

"The facility is a necessity for the university, but also an asset to the community," says Thomas. "Just like Nippert Stadium, the Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex will be made available to high schools and other community organizations that don’t have a home field on which to practice or play."

Pending UC's ability to raise enough funds, phase two (estimated to cost $4.2 million) of the project will begin in the spring of 2011 and will add bleacher seating, a press box, a scoreboard, concessions, a video tower, team rooms, restrooms and a plaza to connect the area with Varsity Village.

The March 16 event served as an opportunity to thank supporters, particularly Larry and Rhonda Sheakley, who are contributing $2.5 million toward the project. Other million-dollar givers to the project include the James and Joan Gardner Family Foundation, Cincinnati Bell, and Fifth Third Bank.

As part of the project, a chilled water thermal storage tank will be installed under the 50-yard field to assist with the university's air conditioning systems. The storage tank is expected to help UC realize an energy savings upward of a million dollars a year.

Project background

Early renderings of practice fields first surfaced at a less-formal announcement in December 2008 after UC agreed to build a venue — then projected to cost $6 million to $10 million and be complete by December 2009 — as part of former UC football coach Brian Kelly's contract extension.

UC awarded the bids for the expanded project last year to architect MSA Sport (lead by UC alum Michael Schuster, DAAP '80) and general contractor Turnbull-Wahlert Construction.