Considerable work, planning has gone into upgrades of University of Utah's athletic facilities

Published: Tuesday, May 14 2013 3:25 p.m. MDT

A new football center is under construction, one of a few construction projects to upgrade sports facilities at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 10, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Competition isn’t the only upgrade that has accompanied the University of Utah’s move to the Pac-12. Since joining the conference in 2011, there have been plenty of physical changes as well — and more changes, a lot more, are on the way.

In July, work will be complete on a new $32 million football and sports medicine facility. Construction is also wrapping up on a $4.5 million softball complex.

Last week, things got rolling on a $24 million men’s and women’s basketball training and sports performance center when an architect was hired. The project is expected to be complete by the spring of 2015 and will likely be done simultaneously with renovations to the Huntsman Center.

Upgrades to the 15-year-old Dumke Gymnastics Center are already under way and plans are being finalized for an outdoor tennis facility, a ski building and a throws area for track and field. Expansion of the Burbidge Academic Center is also on the list of immediate plans.

Other projects on the books include renovating the Ute Natatorium (building 50-meter lanes), possible soccer field relocation or drainage upgrades to the current facility, a potential on-campus baseball stadium and an indoor driving range for the golf team.

“Those are some of our plans that we have to make it happen for the Utes,” said Utah Athletics Director Chris Hill. “ ... Almost every sport needs to upgrade some things. Most of them have the underpinnings of a good start or a good location.”

Hill is hopeful that the major projects will be completed in the next two-to-three years — including fundraising. Although the football and basketball projects have bonds, they were issued with the understanding that half the money would be raised. Neither is covered yet, though the football center is about $2 million away from reaching its goal of $16 million. The basketball facility is about one-third of the way toward its target of $12 million.

Pac-12 funds are providing a big boost. Utah’s membership agreement calls for a 50 percent share in 2012-13; a boost to 75 percent in 2013-14; and a full portion beginning in 2014-15. The main revenue streams (television money and shared distribution from the BCS and conference championships) will add approximately $9.9 million to the coffers in 2012-13; $14.5 million in 2013-14; and $23.3 million in 2014-15. Annual increases of approximately 4 percent are expected thereafter.

“The Pac-12 money has allowed us to essentially make the projects Pac-12 caliber rather than from our previous league, which has caused an increase in prices,” Hill said. “But we’ve been able to budget some of that money so we could help fund these projects over the next 10 years. It’s the first time we’ve been in this position.”

Hill noted that Pac-12 money won’t cover everything when is comes to facilities. There is a big variable to consider when it comes to being competitive.

“We’re fortunate enough to be able to match some of it with our Pac-12 money, but our operating budget is way behind so we can’t steal from our operating budget,” Hill explained. “We want to maintain good coaches. We want to have scholarships paid for. We need to travel. All those things are upgraded. We’ve had to add some staff to keep up with social media expectations and academic expectations.”

The cost of doing business has risen significantly since Utah moved from the Mountain West Conference on July 1, 2011.

“People think we don’t need the money to make our program up to Pac-12 quality and we do,” Hill said. “We’re still not going to catch up with our operating budget past a bunch of people, but we’re going to get past some. We’re going to do a good job with our money and we’re going to be smart.”

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