The University of Wisconsin athletic department wants to spend nearly $300 million for a new indoor football practice facility next to Camp Randall Stadium that it hopes will make it more competitive in recruiting.
The long-studied project, included in the Board of Regents’ capital budget request for the 2023-25 biennium Thursday, would demolish the Camp Randall Sports Center — known as the Shell — and move its indoor track into the adjacent McClain Center.
In place of the Shell, UW has proposed building a new facility that will include an indoor football field and performance and treatment space. An underground parking lot for as many as 330 vehicles could be incorporated.
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The project details were unveiled as part of the Board of Regents’ facility deliberations Thursday, the same day that the Big Ten announced new media rights deals that will significantly increase revenues to UW starting in the 2023-24 school year.
Athletic director Chris McIntosh said the timing was a “convenient coincidence” but conceded that the two were related.
The McClain Center has served the football team for more than 30 years, McIntosh said.
“It’s time to make that improvement and make that investment into a program that’s very important to our department and to the university,” he said. “And it comes at a time when, relative to our peers, it calls attention to the need to improve that facility.”
UW will spend some of that new Big Ten media money to close what it called a gap between its football facilities and those at peer schools that could impact recruiting and retaining players.
Football coaches have aired complaints about the McClain Center, the facility that opened in 1988 to house indoor practices. It doesn’t have a full, 100-yard field and its roof isn’t high enough for kicking and punting.
Athletics officials have also noted problems with the football team’s weight room being divided by a nutrition space in the middle, making supervision by strength and conditioning coaches more challenging.
Part of UW’s justification for the new project in its request to the Board of Regents detailed new indoor facilities at Minnesota, Michigan, Northwestern and Notre Dame: “A properly sized and functional indoor practice facility is a necessity for top-tier football programs, especially those in northern climates,” the request read.
UW hopes to begin construction in December 2023, with substantial completion in December 2025.
The capital budget request, passed by the Board of Regents on Thursday afternoon, next goes to the Department of Administration and the State Building Commission.
UW is wrapping up construction on new premium seating at Camp Randall Stadium, with loge and club seats scheduled to be ready for the Sept. 3 football home openers. Planning for that project coincided with a study of how best to use the Shell after the athletic department completes a purchase of the facility from the Division of Recreation and Wellbeing next year.
The 2020 report by architectural design firms Kahler Slater of Milwaukee and Populous of Kansas City, Missouri, recommended moving the indoor track to the McClain Center and building a new indoor football practice facility in place of the Shell. Centralizing football operations and making a more efficient layout for training were among the goals.
Athletics officials said the Shell needed to be replaced instead of rehabbed, according to minutes of an October 2019 meeting. It was inadequate in size or condition to be converted into an indoor football practice facility, the report found.
The price tag of a new facility and associated moves was listed as more than $200 million in the 2020 report. The estimate now is $299.823 million. Most of the funding will be in cash, with $120 million in borrowing.
“We’re grateful to have campus’ support behind this project, knowing there’s no shortage of projects and priorities for campus,” McIntosh said. “I’m pleased to have the support of campus and the System. It’s a process and it’ll play out here as the summer unfolds and we get into the fall.”
The proposed new facility could activate the adjacent Camp Randall Memorial Park and host community events, according to the project description.
Construction plans include:
• A 100-yard synthetic turf field with 90-foot ceiling height at the center to allow for kicking and punting.
• New strength and conditioning facilities, team meeting rooms, a dining hall, sports medicine offices and coach offices in a multi-story space constructed between the indoor facility and the stadium.
• New spaces for the UW Athletics Hall of Fame and retail, allowing for a long-desired move closer to Monroe Street for the Bucky’s Locker Room location inside the stadium.
The McClain Center would be reconfigured to hold a 200-meter indoor oval track with dedicated areas for field events. The feasibility of including a parking ramp under the new facility will be determined in the design process, according to the project request.
The Shell, built in 1955, and the McClain Center are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places so UW has to work with the Wisconsin Historical Society on any proposed demolition or construction.
The land is bordered on the east and south by Camp Randall Memorial Park, a national register historic district that is under the jurisdiction of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs. The south face of the Shell and the existing UW Athletics Hall of Fame is within the park.
The latest renderings of concepts for renovation of Camp Randall Stadium
Camp Randall Stadium renovation concept, south end zone overview
Camp Randall Stadium renovation concept, schematic section
Camp Randall Stadium renovation concept, field level seating
Camp Randall Stadium renovation concept, club seating/hospitality area
Camp Randall Stadium renovation concept, loge seating/club area
Camp Randall Stadium renovation concept, upper terrace
Camp Randall Stadium renovation concept, south end zone view
Camp Randall Stadium renovation concept, concourse area
Camp Randall Stadium renovation concept, hospitality area
Camp Randall Stadium renovation concept, upper terrace