CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa moves ahead with athletics projects, despite coronavirus unknowns

Construction of $4 million soccer complex could start this summer

Iowa's Sara Wheaton (left) maneuvers to steal the pass from Ohio State's Meghan Kammerdeiner during a Big Ten Conference
Iowa’s Sara Wheaton (left) maneuvers to steal the pass from Ohio State’s Meghan Kammerdeiner during a Big Ten Conference women’s soccer match Oct. 27, 2019, at the University of Iowa Soccer Complex in Iowa City. This week, the state Board of Regents will consider a request to build a nearly $4 million women’s soccer complex along the west side of the UI soccer field (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — After pulling several athletics construction projects from its April agenda amid a raging coronavirus pandemic and widespread uncertainty of the implications, the state Board of Regents this week is resuming athletics considerations with requests to approve two University of Iowa endeavors.

One is a nearly $4 million women’s soccer complex planned along the west side of the UI soccer field — along Prairie Meadows Drive near the UI Athletics Hall of Fame. The facility, to be erected at midfield, would include “spacious” locker rooms, a training room, equipment storage, coach office, team room, press box, filming platform, and other support spaces.

Although a $3 million “special gift” will cover most of the project cost, about $900,000 will come from athletics department funds, which also will be tapped for the expected $25,000 to $50,000 annual maintenance expenses.

UI administrators also this week want the Board of Regents to approve a $6.5 million replacement of air handling units in its Campus Recreation and Wellness Center. That project was among those pulled from regent consideration in April “given the uncertainty about the impact of the coronavirus on collegiate athletics.”

“Through mutual discussion between the board office and the universities, it was agreed that those projects would be presented to the board at a future date,” regents spokesman Josh Lehman told The Gazette in April, citing COVID-19 concerns.

Also pulled at that time were Iowa State University’s $22 million expansion of Hilton Coliseum, and a $2.1 million “football team meeting room” in the University of Northern Iowa’s UNI-Dome.

Neither of those projects is back up for consideration this week.

UI President Bruce Harreld in April told the board the UI recreation center proposal “is barely athletics” and is time-sensitive and necessary. The affected 50-meter competitive swimming pool “is slated to host several Big Ten and NCAA championship meets in the upcoming years,” according to board documents.

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About the decision to resume board consideration of athletics projects this week, Lehman told The Gazette only, “Board leadership is comfortable with the property and facilities committee considering all the projects on the June 4 docket.”

Unknowns persist

Even though some athletics projects are queued up to proceed, much remains unknown about how big and broad COVID-19 implications will be for Iowa’s campus athletics — with Iowa State University Athletics Director Jamie Pollard in April, for example, announcing across-the-board pay cuts and forfeited bonuses in response to and preparation for revenue losses and new expenses.

Last week, UI Athletics Director Gary Barta generalized losses in the multimillions. And he painted a murky picture of the path forward this fall — airing an array of scenarios, from full stadiums to half capacity, along with fan mitigation measures.

Two days earlier, ISU’s Pollard seemed to provide more clarity on his campus’ approaching fall season and potential financial implications by confirming, “We fully anticipate playing football this fall,” but noting Jack Trice Stadium would be restricted to just half fan capacity under current state guidelines.

“Right now, we are planning as though the capacity of our stadium would be limited to 30,000 spectators,” he said, reporting about 22,000 season ticket renewals, leaving 8,000 seats to be filled.

“Because we expect to reach the 50 percent capacity limitation through season ticket sales, we do not anticipate selling single-game tickets unless the capacity limits are raised,” he said, adding, “Any season-ticket holder who renews their season tickets but later decides they are not comfortable attending games this fall because of COVID-19 may request a refund of their season ticket purchase or defer the purchase of their season ticket to the 2021 season.”

Although the evolving situations and scenarios are sure to compel further financial implications, the athletics directors haven’t provided any recent and more-specific updates around total or projected losses. And the future remains unknown not only for football, but for all the campus’ sports — although the governor is continuing to open the state and ease restrictions, with some college athletes allowed to resume voluntary workouts in the coming days.

Soccer, pool upgrades

Plans to eventually return to more normal operations are apparent in the UI request for board approval to build a 8,400-square-foot women’s soccer complex using a timesaving delivery process.

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“In order to complete the project in the summer 2021, the UI plans to utilize the design-build delivery method,” a controversial construction process that lets campuses put out for bid the design and construction of a project at the same time.

The Board of Regents, which some lawmakers have criticized for using design-build, in April expanded its ability to tap the alternate method to projects with budgets under $5 million.

If approved, construction on the new soccer complex would begin this summer and wrap next.

“The UI soccer team currently utilizes space for locker rooms and offices at a remote location from the soccer field, the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex,” according to the UI request for board approval. “The facility would improve the game-day experience for the team, and provide the resources needed for the soccer program to remain competitive with other Big Ten schools.

“The facility would also strengthen recruiting activities, donor cultivation and alumni activities.”

In a statement, Barta praised the program’s donors and touted its recent successes.

“These are challenging times, but the passion of these loyal individuals has pushed this facility forward and are making it a reality,” Barta said. “We are coming off a historic soccer season and have significant momentum around the program.”

The UI pool upgrades — necessary after product deterioration and “significant issues with parts” — also are supposed to start this summer, with work completing in late summer 2021. Without the upgrades, according to the UI proposal, “The rate of failure risks the reliability of the systems to maintain the pool’s activity schedule, which includes student recreation, high level competitions and other daily visitors.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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