A field house for the University at Buffalo football program finally is about to become a reality.
UB has reached its fundraising goal to start work on the project and has received approval from the state Division of the Budget to begin construction on the $18 million project. Buffalo Business First first reported the state sanctioning of the plan.
UB football coaches and athletic administrators have been longing for an indoor practice facility for the better part of two decades, since UB moved up to the highest level of Division I football in 1998.
The vast majority of the 128 schools that play in the Football Bowl Subdivision have indoor practice sites. UB and Ball State are the only two schools in the 12-team Mid-American Conference that do not have a field house for football.
It is expected that construction bids for the project will be issued by the end of June. The hope is they will be received by mid-to-late July and that the first shovel can hit the ground sometime in the fall, UB sources said.
"UB has received the green light from New York State to take the next step in a multi-step process leading to the construction of an athletics field house," a statement released by UB Friday afternoon stated.
"The New York State Division of the Budget recently signed off on the project. New York State Sen. Tim Kennedy was instrumental in helping to secure approval from the state, which was necessary before the project could move forward," the statement, released by UB Associate Vice President for Media Relations John DellaContrada, said.
UB has been seeking to reach a goal of $6 million in hand to start construction. The UB Foundation board of directors approved a funding plan to finance about $10 million of the project through loans in November 2014.
UB's statement said the project will be funded through philanthropy and athletics revenues. No state funds are being used for the project.
"Providing student-athletes a state-of-the-art training facility that's accessible year-round will help strengthen UB's athletics programs, better position UB alongside it's MAC peers and will give the university a significant advantage in recruiting top coaches and student-athletes," UB said.
In August 2016, UB hired the architecture firm CHA Consulting Inc. to design the project. It will be a 90,000-square-foot facility. CHA, headquartered in Albany, has been hired to design numerous SUNY athletic projects.
The field house will be located on what currently is a parking lot just outside the scoreboard end of UB Stadium, behind Alumni Arena. The plan is for numerous UB sports teams also to utilize it, including men’s and women’s track and field, women’s soccer and softball.
UB opted against holding a news conference to announce the latest development in the project, likely due to the fact emotions in the UB athletics community still are raw over the April decision to cut four sports teams.
UB’s football coaches past and present have viewed it as critical to recruiting efforts as well as to improve year-round practice conditions. Among the MAC teams that have opened field houses in recent years are Ohio University in 2014 and Miami of Ohio in 2015.
Other football program facility upgrades have had to be put in place over the past 15 years while UB was trying to raise enough money to start the field house project.
UB built a football office complex, called the Murchie Family Football Center, at a cost of more than $3 million. Enhancements to that building, connected to UB Stadium, recently were completed. The Smolinski Family Sports Medicine Center was added to the UB Stadium complex. In 2015, the school constructed a club seating section in UB Stadium at a cost of about $1 million. Revenue from the sale of those seats has been put toward UB’s field house fundraising goal.