Trustees give final OK for projects

AIKEN -- The much-needed indoor practice facility and practice fields for the South Carolina football program moved a step closer to reality on Thursday.
Both upgrades - which are planned for the rear portion of the renovated Farmers' Market property - were given final Phase II approval by the Building and Grounds Committee of the Board of Trustees at a meeting on the USC-Aiken campus.
The construction process (advertising for bids, opening of bids, etc.) on both projects as required by state law will begin when final approvals from the appropriate state agencies, including the powerful Budget and Control Board, are obtained in the coming months.
In addition, the Building and Grounds Committee granted Phase I approval to five other projects: A plaza at Williams-Brice Stadium (initial approval of $210,000), tennis complex addition ($150,000), soccer building ($37,500), field house conversion ($75,000) and long-awaited upgrades to the track and field complex ($150,000).
"We're enjoying some great momentum and success right now across the board," USC athletic director Ray Tanner told the Committee. "Our football team is a Top-10 program. Coach (Dawn) Staley is coming off a Sweet 16 year and will hopefully be back in that position. Men's basketball is going to do well with Frank Martin. Baseball has been very successful."
The price tag for the new twin football practice fields is an estimated $3 million, while the indoor facility, intended to replace the current field house across the street from Stone Stadium, is expected to cost about $14.5 million.
USC officials want to have the new football practice fields ready for preseason camp prior to the 2014 season. They will replace the Proving Grounds, which are owned by the National Guard and leased to the school for a nominal fee.
The new indoor facility, which will feature a full-length practice field, is eyed for a January 2015 opening.
The new $8 million softball stadium will debut in a couple of weeks, and is already regarded as one of the finest facilities in the nation.
"We have an opportunity to improve (the facilities of) our Olympic sports as we move forward with some of these projects today," Tanner told the Committee. "I feel strongly we have to give our student-athletes a chance to excel and be successful at the highest level. I know how difficult it is to compete in the Southeastern Conference. I feel many of our programs are doing that, but not all of them.
"We're asking for the opportunity to improve the resources to give us an opportunity to compete at the highest level."
Other projects given preliminary approval are a sand volleyball court in the Athletic Village ($995,000), field site work at Williams-Brice Stadium ($995,000), heating and air conditioning improvements at The Zone ($550,000) and waterproofing at Williams-Brice Stadium ($500,000) and heating and air conditioning work at The Zone ($550,000).