Late Tuesday morning, while the Miami Hurricanes were gathering for a player-led team workout on Greentree Field, the blaring, ear-throbbing siren that makes football players cringe sounded on campus.
University of Miami coach Mark Richt wasted little time in making it a marketing moment.
“The lightning prediction system horn [blew] loud and clear this morning while our players were trying to get a team workout in,’’ Richt posted on Twitter as the noon hour approached. “No where to go today. What a shame. But very soon, thanks to the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility, that won’t be a problem anymore! U Family!”
That, in turn, was met with this reply by the Hurricane Club: “Very very very soon! #GoCanes”
On Tuesday afternoon, Hurricanes senior associate athletic director Jesse Marks, who has spent the past year and a half directing the fundraising for the sprawling 83,000-square-foot facility, shared a progress report and said that the first phase of the project is expected to be completed sometime in August for the football players to use in inclement weather.
Fall camp begins in early August, and every time the lightning alarm sounds, players have to clear the field for at least 30 minutes. If more lightning is nearby during the wait, the 30 minutes is extended from that point.
“Currently, we are laying the artificial turf onto the field and finishing last-minute items to prepare to open the building,’’ said Marks, who has helped raise more than $35 million, already exceeding the original $34 million goal. “We’ve hit the initial fundraising goal. However, we are continuing the fundraising campaign for additional enhancements to the building’s branding and design to make it truly first class and in line with Coach Richt’s vision.”
The air-conditioned facility will have two fields, one 80 yards long and the other 40 yards, the smaller field underneath the mezzanine where Richt’s office will be. Marks said the football operations area is under construction. That part of the project will encompass nearly 30,000 square feet, will be self-enclosed and will have “all new football offices, team meeting rooms, coaches’ offices and all new recruiting areas’’ and will be attached to the Hecht Athletic Center.
Construction of the coaches’ offices and recruiting areas will not affect the indoor space for the athletes, Marks said.
“The vast amount of space that we have for practice and multipurpose use will make this one of the top practice facilities in the country, if not the top.’’
The facility will have a “dedicated donor recognition area for supporters of the project’’ with branding components that will be “very colorful’’ and different from similar type buildings, Marks said. Given that the roof is about 56 feet high (making punting and kicking easy), some of that branding should be eye-catching at minimum.
Marks said the donor recognition wall will showcase individuals who have contributed more than $10,000, with former Hurricanes football players having their own area where their names will be displayed. As of Tuesday, Marks said more than 80 former UM players had donated about $2.2 million to the project, including Richt and his wife Katharyn’s $1 million.
Players can enter the practice facility from a pathway that goes to the locker room and weight room. If they’re practicing on Greentree Field and the lightning alarm sounds or torrential rain comes, a giant garage door will open for the players to quickly run inside.
Once the permitting and occupancy certificates are completed, the facility will be ready for the athletes. UM broke ground on the facility in May, but the first beams weren’t put in place until December.
“To put a date out there is something I’d rather stay away from,’’ UM athletic director Blake James said Tuesday, “because it creates an unfair deadline for the construction and permitting and that process. I’d rather keep it that we are confident that it will be open in August.’’
And if you feel compelled to open your wallet, James said the indoor practice facility is still raising funds.
“I want to thank everyone for all they did to make this a reality and encourage anyone who still wants to be a part to call in and make their donation,’’ James said. ”We keep making it even better, and with each step of making it better, we add a few more dollars.
“When it’s all done it’s going to be an L-shaped practice facility that is going to highlight our brand and our successes and have the coaches’ offices overlooking a beautiful facility. It’s a huge win for our program.”