$35M UA Football Center Demands Planning

Hot pink and orange spray paint recently appeared on the south side of Reynolds Razorback Stadium to mark utilities. Foot and vehicle traffic in the area, usually at its peak during football season, has noticeably increased, a rarity after the spring semester ends.

Site work has just begun, but nothing is being built yet. However, signs of progress on the University of Arkansas football operations center - a $35 million 80,000-SF facility - are there if you're looking.

Matt Trantham, the UA senior associate athletic director in charge of facilities, knows how folks inside and outside the department are anticipating completion. Patience, he said, will be key to not only building the facility, but making sure it's built right. The sooner the better as long as things aren't rushed to the point that mistakes are made.

"I hear people say they wish we were moving faster and I wish it was going

faster, but I back up and think about the process and what it takes to do a project this big right," Trantham said. "A desire to move quickly will always be there. But if we don't take time to go through the process, you're prone to make mistakes, and they can be expensive mistakes."

Trantham is charged with making sure the money allocated for the structure and accompanying parking garage and practice facility is spent wisely. Private donations are being collected, and the UA Board of Trustees approved last month a bond issue that will provide cash flow to the project. Stephens Inc. and Crews & Associates are partnering for more than $100 million in bonds for various UA projects, including $25 million for football.

Planning will continue until football moves its operations there for good. Construction should begin this fall, and within 18 months the center is scheduled to open, making it available for the 2013 season.

Construction company Flintco of Tulsa, which has an office in northwest Arkansas, will handle construction management. Populous, a firm based in Kansas City, Mo., and Polk Stanley Wilcox, which has offices in both Little Rock and Fayetteville, are the architects. Bidding out work to subcontractors will be handled by Flintco.

"We will see some real construction begin this fall on practice fields and south of Walker Pavilion," Trantham said. "There's nothing in our way but weather."

Starting From Scratch

Imagine the prospect of building your own home from scratch. It sounds great on the surface, but anybody who has done it before knows there is a unique set of challenges that come with the process.

Options are endless. Overshooting budget is entirely possible. Second-guessing becomes commonplace.

Now imagine that process on a multimillion-dollar facility planned to cover 80,000 SF. If Trantham, who previously worked in facility management at the University of Oklahoma, wanted to spend his entire day reviewing options to the building, he could. And that's no exaggeration.

"You can sit in these meetings and you'll come out with your head hurting," he said. "You sit in there all day and you really haven't gotten to specifics yet, just generalities. Do we want carpeting or tile flooring? We've really just scratched the surface of those details. If you don't do it, you'll get something you don't like, but it's painful getting through it."

Trantham and UA administrators are not alone in the process. Coach Bobby Petrino has been instrumental in the planning and design phases.

Petrino's vision for a football operations center was one of the first things he approached administrators about when he arrived in December 2007. Rough plans for a facility were posted in the Broyles Athletic Center, the current home for football, before Petrino coached his first game for the Razorbacks, and he's continued to provide input as the design, interior design and ideas for functionality are considered.

Arkansas' meeting rooms are cramped. Space is especially tight in rehab and medical areas. Equipment upgrades in some areas are needed, but don't make logistical or financial sense until the transition is complete.

Noted for his attention to detail on the field, Petrino has shown a keen eye through the planning stages. It's something he said he appreciates being involved with.

"This is something I am extremely excited about. The administration has welcomed my ideas on each aspect of the new facility," said Petrino, who has also been involved in fundraising. "As a coach, it is nice to be able to have a large amount of input on a facility that we will be utilizing to reach our goals."

Trantham appreciates the help and is enjoying his part in the process. He has been a part of other building projects, like a stadium expansion at Oklahoma, but this is the largest such project he will be overseeing from start to finish.

"The reward of seeing something that started from nothing in a space and seeing what it becomes will be substantial," Trantham said. "This will be rewarding. But it's a lot of work to do it right."

(Q&A: Petrino: 'Extremely Excited' About New UA Football Center)