Stricklin, State Moving Major Projects Ahead

The first official shovel-full of ceremonial dirt has yet to be turned. But Scott Stricklin can already envision how the finished product will appear. When it will, too. "I'd like to see us come back from a bowl game after the 2012 season and move into it." ‘It' of course being the Seal Football Complex.

Based on every current trend, the Mississippi State athletic director can be confident on both counts. First, that the '12 Bulldogs will indeed be coming back from another bowl game. And second, that upon return Coach Dan Mullen and team will be welcomed into their new quarters.

Friday morning, Stricklin said that the schedule for construction of the football headquarters has taken shape along with specific plans for the facility. Firmly enough that the athletic department has even ordered the ceremonial shovels in fact.

"We're hoping to have the groundbreaking next month," Stricklin said. "We have all the approvals, it's up for bid now. We got the exterior approved and all that stuff."

The exterior appearance was among the last items requiring affirmation from the state's Institute of Higher Learning. With architectural and construction plans settled, Mississippi State has been able to put a price on the entire project and open the bidding.

The bill? Still the same $25 million that Stricklin reported in spring when the Seal Family Foundation provided the single largest portion of funding with their $12 million donation. The rest is coming from other, smaller—though not small in many cases—gifts by Bulldog fans and friends helping expedite this facility project.

"It is roughly $22 million for the building, and another $2 or $3 million for the practice fields," said Stricklin. "We've got about $21 million raised so far."

The athletic director will talk more about the Seal Complex project at Saturday's annual meeting of the Bulldog Club. Response from Club members, and for that matter the MSU public in general, has been excitement at giving Mullen another high-profile tool to work with in building the football program.

"Obviously everybody get excited about anything that helps football," agreed Stricklin, adding. "As athletic director, I'm excited that I think we're going to be able to benefit a lot of our programs by re-purposing the space football is currently in. Whether with office space or weightroom space for those sports, it is going to be a positive for the whole athletic department."

Moving football offices from the Bryan Building will certainly ease overcrowding for the administrative, Bulldog Club, Ticket Office, and media relations offices. But Stricklin also anticipates helping all the olympic sports by providing them easier access to the Holliman Center weightroom and meeting rooms, including some new coaching offices there. The Seal Complex is all about football of course, but everyone will be a winner in the long term.

Speaking of long term…Bulldog Club members can expect to see the newest set of sketches for what a renovated and expanded Davis Wade Stadium can look like. Can, because there are a whole lot of steps remaining before the first construction tool touches existing stadium structure. Over the summer Mississippi State did receive IHL approval for $80 million in bonded borrowing towards eventual construction.

As Stricklin said earlier this month, the IHL has at least three more stages to approve remaining.

"We're in the schematic design phase. Once we get that approved, then we do design documents. We have another approval after that. And once construction documents are completed we have to get that approved by the IHL. After that is approved, my understanding is we can put it out for bid."

If the process seems sluggish, it reflects the scope of the project. The impact, too, as the work will lead to disruptions on a busy corner of campus. Here, Stricklin confirmed, the University and athletic department have been in close, constant contact as plans take shape. "Those conversations have been ongoing and really as part of the master plan process."

One example of how a change can ripple around campus is moving the network TV trucks out from under west grandstand over to the Bost Center, with permanent cable links for the broadcast. With all MSU home games now on some TV, it makes sense to have a full-time location. Plus, long-overdue renovations under the grandstand would mean moving the big truck anyway.

Something else fans wouldn't think of but anyone familiar with campus does, is how additions and construction must be fitted into existing electrical and water sources. MSU is an old campus and it seems any time a shovel is stuck into original grounds something surprising can be turned up. And lots of original grounds plans vanished a long time ago.

"Yeah, we'll have mechanical, electrical, and civil engineers involved," said Stricklin. "And we've got consultants right now to help us understand all those issues."

At the same time the Department and University are still hashing-out exactly what to build, where, and when. Stricklin said no final decisions have been, or for now can be, made about whether to renovate and expand at the same time, separately, or in cooperative stages. Money is the key, of course.

"It will depend on what the cost is, we might have to ‘peel off' some things and do it later. We'll maybe bid out some stuff as ‘alternates' that we may be able to include depending on prices or take out and do it later depending on prices. It's just too early."

Too early, too, to go ahead and borrow that approved $80 million. Stricklin is reasonably confident interest rates will remain low for another year, though "I wish we could get out there now! But we're holding our breath. They're not locked-in until you issue the bonds, but you don't want to start incurring the debt service until you need the money. And we're not at the point we need the money yet."

So, the two big questions fans care about: when, and how big? It is easier to answer the latter, first, in terms of what the added seating capacity will be.

"I've said 5,000 to 7,000. It will probably be closer to 7,000. This is primarily suites and club level. But you're going to lose some of the bleachers." Which will deduct some total seating. Though, Stricklin said some "other interesting things" are now being looked at. Such as new type of ‘club' area for fans with existing seats in the grandstands, which anybody can buy into.

"So if you like your seats in, say, Section D and don't want to move; you have an opportunity to buy into this club where you can go in pre-game. And we're talking about creating a ‘rail' that you walk out on and stand at field-level and watch the game from there. But, if you get tired of that you can go back up to your seats or into the club and watch it on TV.

"There are some schools I've heard have the concept of a non-seated club but didn't have any field views. I've always loved the idea of getting fans on the field or as close as possible. It's a niche kind of deal, but I think there are probably a thousand people or so that would want to do it. And to be able to tell their buddy ‘I watched the end of the game down on the field and the game-winning drive was coming right towards me!' I think we'll have a market there."

That and other concepts, such as moving all students into the end zone and selling the opened east side seats for new Bulldog Club members, are being considered. But Stricklin also said it is time to trim the concepts down because final plans must be made to meet his idea schedule. The When.

"Next summer would be a timeline that I'd be comfortable with. My hope is we finish it and the first year in the expanded stadium is 2014."

While fans might fume about waiting sooooo long, the 2012-to-14 timeline would help minimize some issues, such as game disruptions. Waiting to after '12 for example means leaving the bleachers intact until after the Arkansas game. In '13 those seats will be gone of course, but by then concrete will have set and it isn't hard to ask MSU students to stand there for games with LSU, Alabama, and Ole Miss.

"There might be some temporary disruptions, but we'll work through it," Stricklin said. "Say we bid it out next summer, you would float the bonds and that's when you would have your rate locked-in. Obviously if it started next summer, a lot of the work done in the fall of '12 would be utility-type. We wouldn't be ripping down those bleachers in the middle of the season!

"But you would hopefully do a lot of staging and a lot of preparation, and do as much as you could so that as soon as the '12 season is over you could see a lot of activity. If it's earlier great, we want to do it as fast as we can. But we also want to be realistic."

Bulldog Club fans can hear realistic plans at the meeting, along with other plans and expenditures on facilities. Stricklin figures spending some $150 million in a five-to-seven year stretch which actually began two years ago with the now-finished Mize Pavilion.

"I'll talk about a lot of this stuff tomorrow."

Not related to the above, but also on MSU minds is the opening in the 2012 football schedule created by Louisiana Tech breaking the contract for a deal with Virginia. The game was September 15; now that date is empty with just 54 weeks left for filling it.

"It's still open," Stricklin said today. "I've got a drop-dead date in my mind. My concern is to find a FBS opponent to come in and play us. I've talked to a few but everybody has got ‘moving parts' so I'm trying to be patient. I think at the end of the day we can always get a FCS team."

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