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UConn plans new sports facility

By Amy Schellenbaum
On April 17, 2012

  • This photo shows the projection of what the UConn Foundation plans for the new basketball facility. The UConn Foundation does not want the basketball program to fall behind other schools’ programs and wants it to stay competitive. Photo courtesy of The UConn Foundation

In May, construction for the new basketball practice facility, a $35-million project designed to keep UConn athletics programs from falling behind in revenue, resources and academic performance, will begin behind Gampel Pavilion.

The complex is designed to be a place for practice, physical conditioning and academic support for the student athletes on the basketball team. The building, fundraising for which began nearly six years ago, is also designed to "celebrate the success" of the UConn basketball program, according to Brian Otis, the vice president for development and campaign management at the UConn Foundation.

"The goal of building this facility is for our basketball program - and by extension all athletic programs at UConn - to remain competitive," Otis said. In terms of facilities, Otis said UConn is "falling behind peer institutions."

The facility will feature practice courts for each team along with study areas, two computer labs, a video editing suite, a hydrotherapy room, a dining area, an alumni locker room and two film-viewing rooms, according to renderings of the facility drawn by the architecture firm last year.

"We have to ensure we've got an environment to support our student athletes across the board," Otis said.

Otis and others on the Foundation's Athletic Fundraising Steering Committee believe the basketball facility will help all athletic programs at the university. UConn's basketball programs generate around 80 percent of the Division of Athletics' external revenue. Keeping the basketball programs competitive is "critical for the Division's future," according to the promotional materials for the facility.

"If we cannot maintain that revenue stream and build it, all our sports programs suffer," Otis said.

Demolition will begin on Memorial Stadium behind Gampel Pavilion next month and construction of the facility is slated to begin in the fall. The Foundation wants to raise $26 million before beginning to build the facility. It has raised $17.2 million thus far, and around $11 million since September 2011.

Otis and Zach Goines, the senior director of development for UConn athletics, said the facility will be a positive investment for non-athletes as well.

"It's one of those things where the old adage, 'Rising tides lifts all boats' is true," Goines said. "UConn basketball is essentially what the University of Connecticut is known for. That's what draws people in. Then, they find out how wonderful the academics are."

Otis said the facility will attract highly-qualified coaches when the time comes for members of the current staff to retire. Having a separate facility with practice areas for both the men's and women's teams will also make scheduling practices and classes easier, Otis said.

"We want to ensure our program doesn't take a step back," Otis said. "We want to maintain excellence."

Improving the education and graduation rates of student athletes is another top concern, Goines said.

"The academic piece we've built into this is so key," Goines said. "It's important to have a facility that is specific to the needs of student athletes, because that's where they end up spending the majority of their time."

The complex is the first major project for which the UConn Foundation, a private entity that solicits donations to fund both academic and athletic projects, will provide 100 percent of the funding.

"There is no money available through the university for any athletic facilities whatsoever. We've asked," Otis said.

Otis said the university "designated every dollar" from the 21st-Century UConn initiative to academic buildings.

"I don't want the perception to be that the UConn Foundation only funds athletic buildings," Otis said. "With all the money designated to academic buildings, this had to be a privately-funded push."

Of the around 30 fundraising teams, Otis said 26 work on fundraising for schools and colleges. UConn President Susan Herbst has been supportive of the facility, Otis said.

"I wouldn't want to compromise the quality of our business school building, our chemistry building, our pharmacy building," Otis said. "At UConn, we want the best facilities, we want the best professors, we want the best possible total-college experience for our student body. It's as simple as that."

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