Bids opened for football practice fields

Long awaited by Gamecock supporters, sparkling new full-length football practice fields planned for the rear parcel of Gamecock Park (formerly the Farmer's Market) took another step Tuesday towards becoming reality.
Seven construction companies submitted bids for the project, intended to replace the Proving Ground, land leased annually from the S.C. National Guard for nominal cost.
Announcement of the successful bidder on the University of South Carolina's official web site is set for 5 p.m. Thursday, Athletics Chief Operating Officer Kevin O'Connell told Gamecock Central.
Based on the amount of the bids, final cost for two practice fields, lights, fencing and gates, netting and filming towers is approximately $2.98 million.
Construction is expected to begin in early March and estimated to last at least six months. As a result, the new fields will likely not be finished in time for the start of preseason camp in early August, compelling the Gamecocks to spend most or all of the 29 practices preparing for the Aug. 28 season opener against Texas A&M on the Proving Ground before shifting over to the new side-by-side fields in early September.
"We'll start (preseason camp) on the National Guard fields, where they currently are, and then we'll move when these are done," O'Connell said. "Chances are, (the new fields) won't be ready for Aug. 1. As soon as they're ready to go, we'll move over."
Vehicles will not be permitted to park on the practice fields when they are completed, O'Connell said.
New football practice fields are the latest athletic department project to reach the bid opening stage. Next is the indoor practice facility, another highly-anticipated venture. Architectural plans for the much-needed structure have been submitted to the state engineer for approval.
Once that requirement is met, USC will advertise for bids, as required by state law. O'Connell said USC hopes construction of the new indoor facility begins sometime in May.
"It's (start of construction) going to run about two months behind the practice fields," O'Connell said.
Building the new indoor facility will last about one year, O'Connell said, so the Gamecocks hope the structure is completed in time for summer workouts in 2015.
O'Connell plans to request Phase II approval for three athletic dept. projects from the Board of Trustees on Friday: Spring-Brooks Plaza adjacent to Williams-Brice Stadium, soccer complex, and track and field upgrades.
The planned pedestrian plaza adjacent to the west side of Williams-Brice Stadium is expected to cost about $14.5 million.
Combined estimated cost of the soccer complex ($3 million), set to be built next to Stone Stadium, and the significant improvements to the track and field facilities ($15 million) is $18 million.
Both the soccer and track projects will proceed through the Phase II approval process as a single entity, but will be bid separately upon final approval months from now, O'Connell said.
Estimated cost of the new outdoor track and throwing area (where the Roundhouse was located) is $9.1 million, while the substantial improvements to the existing indoor facility are budgeted for $5.9 million.
Plans call for transforming the existing indoor facility into a 200-meter banked track, allowing USC to host indoor meets during the winter months for the first time, and for the outdoor track to be moved slightly.
Removal of the indoor tennis courts is planned as part of the process upgrading the indoor facility, O'Connell said.
Architectural drawings for those three looming projects are expected to be publicly unveiled Friday morning by USC officials to the Intercollegiate Athletics Committee of the Board of Trustees.
Down the road, a $35 million three-story basketball practice and athletic weight training facility is being developed for the Athletics Village close to the Rice Athletics Center, the two-year old administration building.
USC is currently raising funds for the project, O'Connell said.