Foresight Abounds In Athletics Facility Plan

Ohio State has taken an eye toward the future when it comes to athletic facilities as there is a master plan nearing completion that hopes to guide the department of athletics for years to come. Included are a few details that should make life easier on the football and basketball programs and make life easier for student-athletes in general.

Running a business with a budget in excess of $100 million, like the Ohio State department of athletics, is a job that requires a bit of foresight.

That appears to be evident in spades in OSU athletics, at least when it comes to the look of the department's facilities in the long term. While the university as a whole is undergoing a look at its future facility plans, athletics is doing the same.

The department commissioned HNTB Corporation, a Kansas City-based architecture consulting firm, to design a 20-year master plan for its facilities, the first such plan done by OSU athletics since the 1980s. The plan will go before an independent review board soon before being incorporated by the total Ohio State plan, which is being crafted by Sasaki Associates Inc. and should be done in the fall.

"We wanted to hire a firm to help us kind of map out our issues and talk about what we needed to have in place for the future," Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith told BSB last week in an exclusive interview. "We're lucky like a number of colleges on campus that actually started a process to look at all of our facilities and say, ‘OK, what do we need to do? Where do we want to go?' That's really why we did it."

Of course, not much will be changed with Ohio Stadium, which underwent a massive renovation in the late 1990s, over the next few years. The same goes for the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, which recently saw a massive renovation conclude with a sparkling new facility.

When it comes to the Schottenstein Center, the home of Ohio State men's and women's basketball and men's hockey, a major change in the works is a $20-22 million addition to the building that will provide new office and practice space for the basketball programs.

A number of other projects are in the offing, including a $5.9 million renovation of softball's Buckeye Field, which began with demolition of the old bleachers and dugouts in June; plans for a boathouse for the rowing team and hitting bays and practice areas for the golf teams, which are both in the proposal and planning stages; and a $6-9 million relocation of the field hockey North Turf Field and a renovation to the Stickney Tennis Center, which has been approved and will begin with an eye on having it done within the next two years.

That last piece is the first to come directly from the master planning process.

"We knew we had to replace this field," said Ohio State associate director of athletics Ben Jay of the North Turf Field, which sits south of the WHAC among the football practice fields. "As we were working on the different variations of the master plan, one of the things that seemed to be constant was to move field hockey up here north of tennis in that area up here.

"We decided that if we're going in that direction and it doesn't look like it's going to change, then if we have to build it, let's build it now up in that area. So the master plan has given some direction to us already."

One benefit to the football program will be the elimination of the field hockey surface inside of the football practice area south of the WHAC, which should result in the consolidation of the football outdoor practice fields.

A number of other projects could be on the docket. A solution to problems at French Field House, which houses the indoor track programs, needs to be found, as the antiquated building has no air conditioning and problems from head – issues with the building's roof – to toe – a bumpy track.

A few other projects that could be on the docket in the near future include an athletics administration building and a new indoor artificial turf field. Of Ohio State's 314 athletics employees, around 70 are headquartered in St. John Arena, including Smith. The rest are scattered about a total of 14 buildings on campus, providing a number of logistical problems.

Possible solutions include a new administration building at a to-be-determined site, or a renovation to the existing office space in St. John Arena to accommodate others.

"The main thing that we're interested in is a facility that brings people together," Smith said. "That may just be a renovation of St. John Arena. That may be a different building somewhere else on campus. The main thing is how do we serve these people, and that can take on a number of forms. We're looking at different options, and that's the nice thing about Sasaki is that we've moved from an athletic administration building is the answer to multiple answers."

As for a new indoor field, that would solve a number of problems at the indoor field in football's Woody Hayes facility. The artificial turf there is under constant duress because of the number of teams that practice on the large indoor space, especially during the winter when field sports combine with football to occupy the field for nearly 18 hours per day.

A new turf field would solve a number of issues – it would reduce the stress on the WHAC, could perhaps have an attached athletic training building to replace the antiquated Biggs facility attached to the WHAC, and might include an indoor track to replace French.

"You could design it two ways," Jay said. "If you were going to take out the French Field House, obviously you would need to move track somewhere. One thought was to put a track inside this new multipurpose facility with a 100-yard turf artificial infield. That would certainly help us in regards to how much the WHAC is used. We're looking at it costwise with a track in it and without a track in it, so there are a number of options we're looking at."

Another aspect of the master plan is that it should allow Ohio State athletics to bring together its facilities in a structured way. The 20-year vision for the plan includes pedestrian pathways, open green space and water features to provide a pleasant feel to the entire area.

If all goes according to plan, athletics could end up in control of the entire area between Lane Avenue, Fred Taylor Drive, Ackerman Road and Olentangy River Road, which would be cultivated into what Jay calls an athletics village that provides student-athletes and spectators with comfortable, easy to navigate surroundings.

"We're carefully studying this and master planning for the entire area to really give it an organized, cohesive type feel to the village, and I think we're heading down that way," Jay said. "We've been very happy in terms of what we've come back with."

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