In all honesty, there was a part of Vicki Mitchell which wondered if, indeed, she would ever see a field house at the University at Buffalo during her tenure.
Mitchell, who coaches cross country and track and field, had heard talk about the facility for 20 years, just like everyone else.
But now, shovels are scheduled to go into the ground.
With funding secured over the summer, the university announced on Friday morning that it has secured the services of Rochester-based LeChase Construction as the general contractor and New York-based architecture firm CHAfor the project.
The 92,000-square-foot indoor practice facility is scheduled to have a ground-breaking ceremony on Oct. 7, before the UB football homecoming game against Western Michigan.
"Knowing that in a couple of weeks we will see digging happening is so dang exciting," said Mitchell who has been the director and head coach of UB's cross country and track and field programs since 2002. "I think it's monumental for our program and for all our programs and our campus and the community. It puts us in the running with all the other Mid-American Conference schools who have facilities. And even though we've been lacking in facilities, we still have been competitive at a high level. This gives us that advantage that we previously had not had."
While "field house" and "football" are often synonymous, the facility will benefit a wide swath of the UB athletic community. Along with a full-size football field, it will feature 6,000 feet of rubber track for sprint practice as well as long/triple jump and pole vault pits. In addition, it will have motorized suspended softball hitting tunnels.
"The comparisons we've draw is that you don't have a major university without labs and libraries," UB Athletic Director Allen Greene said. "The provost would not expect students to study out in the wind and rain, the scorching summer sun or the snow, and expect them to do well on tests. We've been expected to win championships without having a lab and a library. This puts us on par with our peers. Honestly, there are high schools and junior colleges and FCS schools that have the facilities. It's less a wish item and more an absolute necessity."
Weather plays an impact into the use of the facility, particularly for the cross country team and distance runners. While winters have been mild in terms of snow in recent years, ice and brutal winds are common, creating too dangerous conditions for outdoor training.
The track and field team has lacked proper pits for indoor work on long and triple jumps. Not only has that meant a limited ability to work on their sport, but also created a prolonged setup and tear down, one that can add an hour to a student-athlete's practice. And in the current climate for all college students where issues of mental health highlight a need for a more balanced schedule, that reduction in set up or travel time to an off-campus facility has the potential to make a world of difference.
"This allows them to be more efficient with the practice time," Mitchell said. "And if they know they're going to get one more hour a couple days a week, it can add to their sleep, or give them a chance to have dinner with their teammates or just relaxing. Those things have real benefits."
A more tangible benefit will come from scheduling. While men's and women's basketball won't necessarily be using the field house, creating a new space for other teams frees up space in Alumni Arena. That affords basketball more flexibility with their practice schedule and gives players more access to unconstructed practice time. You know, just heading over the gym to shoot baskets, work on mechanics, and pass the ball around with your teammates.
That same freedom for unstructured time can benefit the football team, as well.
A field house is often seen as a shelter from the elements. And while that's true, with no field house, UB football players have not had a space in the off-season to work out pass plays and routes on their own.
"My first year I was disappointed to see our timing and our passing game when we first started to hit the field," third-year UB football coach Lance Leipold said. "Just like in basketball there are gym rats, quarterbacks and receivers like to get together and work on timing and route running and all those things. Now, there's an opportunity for them to do their own work."
The timing of the new field house comes as Buffalo has its first season without four sports this season after the university cut men's soccer, men's swimming and diving, baseball, and women's rowing in the spring.
"Some people are trying to connect the discontinued sports and this field house," Greene said. "It is crystal clear the funding for this project is solely based on private philanthropic funds, The Gicewicz Club, our football premium seating area, and conference revenue driven by football.
"Our purpose is to provide a positive and championship environment. The discontinuation of sports and the field house are two separate lines."