Feb 9, 2011 by Lee Shearer, Athens Banner Herald
University of Georgia coaches, athletic administrators and football players already are moving into offices and training rooms inside a huge addition to the UGA Athletic Association's Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.
The public will have to wait a little longer to get a look inside the $40 million office and museum that athletic officials say will be the best football training facility in the country – as well as a recruiting tool to draw top football talent to Georgia.
The building will be dedicated in an official ceremony in February, and even then, many of the building's most unusual features will remain hidden, architects said during a tour of the building Monday.
Architecturally, the 53,000-square-foot project was harder than just putting up a new building, said Campus Architect Danny Sniff.
Designers had make the addition's look blend in with the existing building and nearby structures, while at the same time adding all the features coaches and athletic association officials wanted, he said.
"It took a long time to make it simple," said Gwynne Darden, a university architect who worked with UGA athletic association officials on the project.
When visitors get a chance to go inside the sports museum, they'll be able to peer through a large glass window into a video editing room, where workers prepare digital movies of previous games for coaches or players.
They may not notice, though, that the floor in that room is raised so that all the cabling connecting the state-of-the-art audiovisual system will fit, Darden said. Workers inside also can flip a switch to make windows opaque, effectively shutting out prying eyes.
The addition's most visible part is behind a huge glass wall that faces Stegeman Coliseum, where the UGA basketball and gymnastics teams compete – a room about 20 yards long and as wide as a football field, with a ceiling more than 30 feet high.
The UGA football team will be able to run plays in the cavernous room. The room's floor is covered in artificial grass and is marked like a football field, but the space also can double as a dining area big enough to seat 500.
UGA football coach Mark Richt gets the best views in the building from an office suite as large as a small house.
One room in the suite overlooks the mini field where his football team can run plays.
Windows in another room of the coach's suite overlook an outdoor practice field and another hidden feature of the building – a buried cistern that can hold 135,000 gallons of rain water to irrigate the field during dry times.
Workers with Brasfield & Gorrie, the general contractor, have added 53,000 square feet of new space to Butts-Mehre and are renovating 23,000 square feet of the old building, Darden said.
The futuristic, domed Butts-Mehre cube contains about 80,000 square feet and opened in 1987.
Players already are using a huge new weight room and a training facility that former athletic director Damon Evans promised would be the best in the country when contractors began work about 16 months ago.
One room called a hydro spa contains four water pools for rehabilitative therapy, including one with a large treadmill that can be raised from the bottom of the pool to the top.
The addition also includes dozens of meeting rooms – small spaces just for running backs or defensive linemen, for example, as well as larger rooms where the entire defensive or offensive team might gather.