MISSOULA — If there was any doubt that the University of Montana needed an indoor practice facility for athletics, Friday made sure to erase that suspicion and drive that point home.
With snow falling on Friday morning at the Riverbowl on the University of Montana campus, the school celebrated a groundbreaking ceremony as officials honored their new facility which will open this coming fall.
"Well thanks for being here. I think this is a very appropriate day for building an indoor practice facility. It's April 21 and it's snowing," UM athletic director Kent Haslam said to begin his speech at the site. "So this is the reason we're doing it."
Construction is already underway for the new indoor facility, but Friday was the official welcoming and celebration now that the long-awaited project is a reality.
Everyone from donors to athletes were in attendance as the facility was formally introduced.
Haslam noted that in the last nine years, Grizzly Athletics has raised more than $40 million for new facilities. This newest project falls under the athletics master plan that's brought a number of additions and renovations to campus for student-athletes.
"Well, you want to make sure you're not running your donors into the wall and having them invest in too many things, so you got to pace them out and our master plan does have a large permanent indoor practice facility, but to build those are significant amounts of investment," Haslam said. "And so we talked about, do we wait and raise enough money to build this huge facility, or do we get something done now that really meets our needs, and we decided let's move now and go for something that's a little more manageable financially."
The Grizzly Indoor Practice Facility will feature many perks for track and field, including six sprint lanes, jumping pits, pole vault and throwing spaces, and of course, a full turf field for football and soccer, while softball will also use it for winter practices.
All of it will be covered by an inflatable dome that will come down when the weather is nice, and go up when the temperature begins to drop.
Outside of athletics, the facility will also be available for club and intramural sports and is expected to be used by the community at large for a range of activities.
"For 50 years, campus rec has used this field for intramurals and club sports, and we've always been kind of limited by the fact that it doesn't have lights and the fact that it gets dark here pretty early in the fall, and the field conditions will get terrible," UM director of campus recreation Steve Thompson said. "So having an indoor facility like this is something that will really benefit the thousands of students that play intramurals and club sports every year here on campus."
"I see this facility in the middle of winter being used from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.," Haslam added.
The $10.2 million project was completely privately funded, according to the university, and in total is 111,033 square feet.
It's a big step in the facilities arms race that is always going on in college athletics, and it's addition will help UM programs not skip a beat in training when the long winter months roll around each year.
"There's certainly an arms race, and you want to get things done, but I also think when you get into an arms race if you're not careful, you'll invest in things you can't afford to build, and so you've got to be practical in what you do," Haslam said. "I've said that all along, we need to build facilities that we can really afford and that we can pay for, and we can build and get done. But certainly we've see what it's like here in November and December and we're plowing the football field in January so that they can do winter workouts.
"I mean, it's just those kind of things that no matter how tough you are, when it's cold it's difficult to get a good workout in and so this type of thing really does send a signal that hey we're investing in facilities that student-athletes can use."
The project is expected to be completed by the time fall arrives. It's been an asset long desired by programs at UM, and now, they're on the precipice of seeing it completed and in operation.
"The generosity of Griz nation astounds, repeatedly," UM head football coach Bobby Hauck said. "It's phenomenal, it's unique. Nationwide, there's nothing like this. The fact that we can just say hey we're going to build an indoor and three years later we're building it, completely privately funded is remarkable. It just doesn't happen anywhere aside from here. Makes this a special place."
"I'm proud of be a Grizzly, so proud of the things that we're doing, proud of the people that worked so hard every single day to represent this university, this community and this state, go Griz," Haslam added.