When the University of Tennessee (UT) at Knoxville decided that its 20 men’s and women’s intercollegiate teams needed a first-class facility, alumni donors answered the call with the “Step Up” initiative.
Toby and Brenda McKenzie were the first to come forward with a significant gift. Such a tribute to inspire excellence was the funding foundation of the new athletics center that will bear their name.
This tremendous start encouraged others to “step up.” In the past, the university bonded the majority of costs, paying it off with current revenues. This fund-raising campaign ultimately raised $44 million in just two and a half years for seven different athletic facilities. Of that, $10 to $12 million will be spent on the new McKenzie Athletics Center.
The groundbreaking ceremony was held this past January, with the university’s president, and major donors Toby and Brenda McKenzie among others, in attendance.
Rouse Construction Company, of Knoxville, is the general contractor for the new facilities. Alan Calhoun, Rouse project manger, said he was challenged by heavy rains this past spring and summer.
“Rouse takes particular pride in bringing jobs in on schedule. We began construction February 2003. From the onset we were on a tight schedule, then we were delayed by the weather,” said Calhoun.
“Another challenge we ran into were less than desirable subsurface conditions,” he said. “That meant we had to drive H piles -– 205 H pilings for the foundation. We had additional subcontractors for some of the work that we had anticipated self-performing. We decided it would be best if we subcontracted out part of that work and double-teamed the concrete form work with multiple crews. Bottom line, we will finish on schedule,” he said.
Construction is slated for completion in November 2004.
Calhoun noted that crews are using a Terex 30-ton (27.2 t) all-terrain crane for the concrete form work and are excavating footings with a John Deere 310SE backhoe. “We’re also using a Gehl 633 forklift, and we’ll be bringing in a Link-Belt 80-ton crane as we get higher,” he said. “That piece of equipment will assist with the concrete pouring and steel erection.”
Rouse also is using a John Deere skid steer loader as an all-purpose vehicle for the job.
“We own a lot of equipment, but sometimes call on United Rental, Knoxville Tennessee Rental, or Rent-X when we need something more,” said Calhoun.
The building’s design was a joint venture of two Knoxville companies — Cope Associates and McCarty, Holsapple and McCarty.
“The new four-story athletics center will certainly meet the critical needs of our athletic department in two different components,” said Scott Rabenold, UT director of capital support. “The first floor will include a gallery of honor, through pictures, trophies, and inter-active displays that will highlight all of our SEC and NCAA champions.
“All-Americans have helped create Tennessee’s intercollegiate athletics history. This area will relate the unbelievable tradition of success that the university has enjoyed. We’ve won more SEC national titles on the men’s side than any school in the conference. Every recruit who steps on campus will immediately see the dominance we’ve held in our athletic programs,” said Rabenold. “The Hall will also feature a special area as tribute to legendary broadcasters Lindsey Nelson and John Ward, both UT alums. In addition, there will be space for receptions and other functions.”
Rabenold noted that the second component solves the problem of the athletic department’s “dire” need for administrative space.
“We are currently housed in the old basketball arena, the Stokely Athletic Center,” he said. “It’s a facility that served its purpose when we had six administrators. Now that our staff has grown to over 100, we obviously need new office space. We’re currently in cubicles, with boxes in the hallways.”
The second floor will house the department’s marketing efforts, and the third floor will be home to development and fund-raising work. Senior level administration will occupy the fourth floor.
“For visitors to our Knoxville campus, [the center] will be an impressive starting point,” said Rabenold.
UT’s Robert E. White indoor practice football field, used by several teams, is currently 70 yds. Part of the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex, which is currently under construction, will be extended to the full 120 yds. No bleachers — strictly a practice field. It will have the new environmentally-friendly Pro-Turf that is popular. Whereas the old, artificial turf that was installed 10 to 20 years ago is hard on the knees and back, this material is taken from ground-up tennis shoes. It has a rubbery feel, and is soft on the body.
The first funded construction project was the Wolf-Kaplan Hospitality Center, completed August 2002. Construction is scheduled to begin in spring on a golf complex practice. During that same time, a football team locker room renovation will happen. Also, the construction of a $20-million aquatic center will begin this coming January. New soccer and softball stadiums are planned, beginning in a year or two.
According to Rabenold, in a plan to stay ahead of the curve, these new facilities will position the Tennessee Volunteers as top contenders in each sport in the SEC and NCAA. Much of that credit will go to the donors. Without their generous involvement and desire to keep the University of Tennessee’s athletics in the forefront, this continuing dream would not become reality.