(Taken from Scott's handy-dandy Blackberry)
The e-mail notice from UC's Ryan Koslen gave word of a media tour of the Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex at 11 a.m., Thursday. Seeing as I portray a media guy every now and then, I figured I'd show up and see what all the fuss was about.
While not every entity in the Tri-State attended, it officially became a UC media event when Enquirer beat reporter Bill Koch appeared, anxious as anyone to don a hard-hat and reflective vest. It's rare for a member of the press to have the opportunity to look like one of the "Village People", so Bill's excitement was understood by us all.
What was previously the ill-fated Sander Hall lot, the Corry lot, an ugly warehouse and some surrounding shrubs, will soon become another "footprint" of the Varsity Village design. After a couple of groundbreakings (one a Brian Kelly photo op on a bulldozer, then later a tent revival with major donors) serious work on the project began in March, with the initial phase to be finished very soon.
"With the changes in topography, it's come a long way," said UC Project Manager Barrett Bamberger. "We don't have any of the synthetic turf done yet--that's going to start next week--but you can really see the field taking shape now. Of course the half-field, there's that underground thermal (water) storage tank. That's got to be completed first."
The storage tank will hold four million gallons of water and will save UC an estimated $500,000 year in cooling costs as noted in a recent Enquirer article. In Cincinnati terms, the thermal tank will hold more water than what is used at Sunlite Pool at Coney Island off Kellogg. Obviously, that part of the project will be completed in the next phase with the 60-yard field on top.
On the other hand, the green light is on for the 100-yard field to be used soon by Head Coach Butch Jones and the Bearcats.
"This will be finished by the end of the month," said a confident Bamberger. "It'll be ready to be played on by September 1st and construction on the half-field will continue to the end of the year."
While the "bubble" is not slated for completion on the project until November, the additional practice space is welcome to a football team that has shared it's stadium with other Bearcat teams, various intramural sports, numerous amateur placekickers (hit one from 40 my sophomore year) and sun worshipers of every shape,size and dimension. Practices were technically "closed" previously at Nippert Stadium, but it was difficult to police in such a central spot.
Once the Jefferson Complex is complete, public access to practices will be limited, just as they are at most competitive universities. However, the added space will certainly enhance UC in terms of attractive facilities that are becoming more and more essential in recruiting.
Not only will the Jefferson Avenue Complex give football an eventual indoor practice site, the other sports will benefit and lacrosse will eventually have it's own home complete with stands, a scoreboard and a pressbox. Prior to this, UC was the only Big East school without such an indoor site other than USF in Tampa (where winters tend to be noticeably milder).
"In Phase Two, we have the completion of the bleachers, a pressbox, some restrooms as a part of that, concession stand, raised decks for filming and between the fields the viewing/filming platform," said Bamberger. "The full field should be ready to play on by September 1st. Phase Two should begin sometime in the fall and we expect to be finished with that around October 2011."
"I think this is going to be pretty unique," continued Bamberger. "I don't know of any other practice facility quite like this. Late November, we'll see the inflatable dome that's going to go over the full field. It'll be exciting."
The project for the last five months has employed about 50-60 workers at any one time. Eventually, it will be one of the first things you'll notice as you near the University on Jefferson Avenue with a main entrance planned there.
While many UC grads might reminisce about the great tailgating lot (Corry), the steep hill you might have tumbled down in celebration of a big win (or lack of coordination) or the incessant fire alarms at the old Sander Hall, you should take pride in knowing those landmarks have now given way to positive improvements in terms of athletic facilities.
Like much of the construction the last decade around UC, it'll catch you off guard if you haven't been on campus to see the changes. If you haven't been in town in awhile, you owe it to yourself to include UC on your sightseeing list as the Big East influence has dramatically changed the Bearcat landscape.