GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Inside a cavernous shell of the soon-to-be crowned jewel of Florida athletic facilities, Scott Stricklin thanked the dutiful administrators, generous donors and dedicated construction workers who helped get the University Athletic Association to Tuesday’s afternoon’s milestone moment. Stricklin, the UF athletic director, spoke for several minutes before introducing the true brainchild behind the Heavener Football Training Center.
Up came, in Stricklin’s words, “facility planner and head football coach Dan Mullen,” who in his remarks to the crowd of several hundred on hand for the center’s ceremonial “topping out” made a promise that those in attendance either already knew or had become aware after entering the massive, two-story edifice.
“This facility is going to live up to the Gator standard,” Mullen said. “The standard of being the absolute best at everything we do.”
Within the hour, the final beam — one that arches to the very top of the expansive atrium entrance, and signed by Mullen, Steve Spurrier and a host of other dignitaries on hand — was lifted into place by crane and thus officially topped the $85 million, 142,000-square-foot facility and is expected to be ready for occupancy in the spring of 2022.
.@CoachDanMullen signing the last piece of steel to top off the Bill Heavener Training Center! #GoGators pic.twitter.com/k6SxOxq1D6
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) June 8, 2021 Getting to the topping-out point took an estimated 50,000 man hours, with the first piece of steel being set on the former site of baseball’s McKethan Stadium back on March 30. That’s a run of 70 days.
“Now, let’s all get back to work,” Mullen shouted. “We’re ready to move in.”
The wait will be worth it.
And not just for football players.
A gorgeous front-quadrant portion of the Heavener Center will be open to all UF student-athletes and feature a number of what Mullen called “wow factors,” including a dining hall, lounge area, barber shop, virtual reality room, gaming and golf center, as well as resort-style pool area (65,000 gallons) with basketball courts and multipurpose lawn and volleyball areas.
Yes, Mullen was very much a part of imagining and blueprinting a facility — “I didn’t pick out the backsplash and all that,” he admitted — that not only will be home to state-of-the-art weight and training areas (13,000 square feet worth, all attached to the Indoor Practice Facility), but a place where volleyball, soccer, basketball players — everyone — can come and socialize.
“One of the wow factors for us was to design a way to create great interaction for all our student-athletes, so our football players can be around Olympians and record-holders and national champions,” said Mullen, who last week agreed to a three-year contract extension through the 2026 season. “I’ve always believed a massive contributor to the 2006 football national championship team was the 2006 men’s basketball team and the interaction they had. When you look at those things, and think about those things, if you’re going to create this interactive place, I want our players around all these other successful people. We have that at the Hawkins Center academically. I just think the way we interact with other student-athletes at the University of Florida is what separates us from other schools.”
That said, the football component, of course, is the reason the facility is being built, with the Gators finally on track to move out of the antiquated designated football space in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The football areas were designed to allow the team to operate at the highest level of efficiency, relative of logistics.
Tuesday’s ceremony was staged inside the future site of the football team’s 13,000-square-foot weight room. The saying “Location, location, location,” doesn’t just apply to real estate. Mullen used it to make the practice fields, training areas, nutrition and health stations, locker room and meeting areas as easily accessible and functional as possible. Those factors, with concepts borrowed from visits to other athletic facilities as well as corporate headquarters around the country, took precedent over aesthetics (but not at the expense of aesthetics).
“How do we maximize that with an unbelievable facility that is state-of-the-art, but the most efficient?” Mullen asked.
The answer to that question, for now, is in skeletal form, albeit inside a building the size of two Walmarts stacked on top of each other.
And now, it’s topped out.
“When you invest in something of this magnitude, you have one shot to do it right,” Stricklin said. “You want to make sure the people using it every day have everything they need to last them for a very long, long time.”
The facilities planner/head coach is on it.