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A committee unanimously approved construction of an indoor practice facility on part of the existing outdoor football practice fields adjacent to Lane Stadium.
MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
The Virginia Tech football practice fields and Stadium Woods (right) are adjacent to Lane Stadium in Blacksburg. University involvement and strong community support helped prevent about 3 acres of the woods from being taken for a new practice facility.
MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
Lane Stadium and the Virginia Tech football practice fields can be seen from Stadium Woods in Blacksburg. "It’s a good outcome," said John Seiler, chairman of the university’s arboretum committee and a forestry professor who has advocated for keeping Stadium Woods intact.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
BLACKSBURG — A Virginia Tech Board of Visitors subcommittee approved a compromise location for a controversial $17 million indoor football practice facility Monday that will protect the 14-acre forest fragment known as Stadium Woods.
The compromise appears to have ended the contention that has surrounded the issue for months.
After considering several locations around campus, the committee unanimously approved plans to build the much-discussed facility on part of the existing outdoor football practice fields adjacent to Lane Stadium.
The vote clears the way for design of the indoor facility to begin immediately and is expected to boost private fundraising efforts for it.
“With help from the arboretum committee, we were able to strike a compromise,” said Tom Gabbard, associate director of athletics, internal affairs. “We’re excited about the opportunity to get started. It’s overdue. We need it.”
John Seiler, chairman of the university’s arboretum committee and a forestry professor who has advocated for keeping Stadium Woods intact, also praised Monday’s decision.
“This has been a fantastic process,” Seiler said. “It’s been 180 degrees from what happened the first time.”
The arboretum committee advises the university administration on issues affecting the campus treescape, including development impacts. The committee’s recommendations are not binding, but are often factored into major decisions.
Over the past few months, the facilities department has solicited significant input from the arboretum committee while evaluating practice facility sites, especially those nearby the woods, Seiler said.
The athletic department originally proposed building the 84,000-square-foot facility on about 3 acres of the woodland. But that proposal received little attention until 2011, when retired Tech forestry extension specialist Jeff Kirwan announced he had found several dozen white oaks estimated to be between 100 and 400 years old in the woods.
Other forestry professors looked into the issue, and declared the 14-acre woodland a rarity on the East Coast. The Student Government Association, the Graduate Student Assembly and the Faculty Senate passed resolutions asking the administration to spare the woods from development and put the football facility elsewhere.
A community group called Friends of Stadium Woods also formed and organized petitions, rallies and demonstrations. Tech President Charles Steger became involved, and eventually directed the athletic department and the facilities department to find an alternate location. Monday’s vote was the end result of that directive.
Seiler said the compromise location will protect the existing root zone of the woods and all the old-growth trees in it.
“It’s a good outcome,” Seiler said.
Gabbard has said a new indoor practice facility will be a campus asset, providing more space for summer camps and Hokie sports. Construction of the new facility would also allow Rector Field House to be remodeled and turned over to the track and field program. Currently, track and field shares the field house with football.
Putting the new practice facility on the existing practice fields adjacent to Lane Stadium accomplishes the athletic department’s main goal: keeping travel time between workout facilities, showers and practice areas to a minimum.
Student athletes are allowed only 20 hours of practice time a week, and officials didn’t want transportation problems to cut into that time, Gabbard said.
It’s also better to keep practices nearby shelter from lightning storms and close to medical facilities and personnel, Gabbard said.
The full board of visitors has previously approved a budget of $25 million for the indoor practice facility and Rector Field House. But final costs will not be known until design work is completed.
Gabbard said Monday that he hopes the cost of the indoor facility can be kept to no more than $17 million. That would leave about $8 million for Rector Field House renovations.
Approval of the full board of visitors was not needed for the practice facility location, although the board did receive a report about the decision from John Rocovich, the board member who heads the building and grounds subcommittee.
Full board action would only be required if the athletic department requested a change to the original $25 million allocation, Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said.
In other board news, the building and grounds subcommittee unanimously approved the relocation of Tech’s dairy operation from the Blacksburg campus to the university’s Kentland Farm in Montgomery County.
The full board approved construction of new residence halls for the Corps of Cadets. The total project is expected to cost $90 million and be completed in three or four years.
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