NASHVILLE — Officials at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga hope to begin renovations of McKenzie Arena and construction of a new adjacent football/athletic training center in the next few months.
The cost of the project, tentatively listed as $18.5 million in State Building Commission documents in 2016, has increased over the years for a variety of reasons, including additions, site complexity, inclusion of facility costs, equipment and information technology, as well as heating, air and ventilation and other building systems, officials said.
The onset of the corona pandemic and most recently the construction inflation in areas ranging from steel to drywall have not helped either.
Earlier this month, members of the State Building Commission approved the latest revision of the project budget and funding, increasing the amount from what had grown to a total project of $29.15 million at the time to a projected $34.65 million now U.S. dollar.
The Commission also added a “maximum price guarantee” that the construction project may not exceed.
There are plans to renovate 26,400 square feet in the arena, which opened in 1982. It will also fund construction of a new, adjacent 37,250 square foot soccer and student sports training center. That will be called the Wolford Family Athletic Center in honor of UTC football American James L. “Bucky” Wolford, a former UT board trustee and UTC donor who died in 2017.
Tyler Forrest, UTC’s vice chancellor of finance and administration, said in an email Friday the university hopes construction will be complete by early 2024, adding that despite the permit, it may not be necessary to complete the total allowable Amount of $34.65 million to use. But the projects are needed, he said.
“The Wolford Family Athletic Center will be an exceptional addition to McKenzie Arena and a major asset to Mocs Athletics,” Forrest said in an email. “The building will provide much-needed additional space for student athletes as well as a multipurpose space needed for both athletic programs and the campus community.”
It also serves to anchor one of UTC’s main entrances along Fourth Street on the north edge of campus, he said.
At one point in 2018, UTC officials debated whether the Wolford Center should be built on campus or at Engle Stadium.
UTC officials originally planned a groundbreaking last November but canceled it due to uncertainty. The project’s primary source of funding is dollars from the Tennessee State School Bond Authority – $25.65 million – along with $3.5 million in gifts. But as approved by the State Building Commission earlier this month, there’s a new fold as UTC contributes $5.5 million to college investment funds in an auxiliary sports category.
The designer for the project, which was approved by the commissioners in August 2019, is Derthick, Henley & Wilkerson Architects of Chattanooga. The building commission awarded the building contract to Hoar Construction, based in Birmingham, Alabama, in November of the same year.
The seven-member State Building Commission consists of the Governor, Speakers of the House and Senate, the State Treasury Commissioner and Secretary of State, the State Examiner, and the State Treasurer. Governor Bill Lee, who like other governors rarely attends SBC meetings, was absent from the last meeting.
“We had challenges”
“It’s a project where we had trouble just getting the numbers right,” Forrest said in a phone interview with the Times Free Press on Friday. He said the $18.5 million originally listed in government documents was actually an initial estimate of $22 million. And even that didn’t include a number of things. It “was just too low,” Forrest said.
The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic has also added to problems, Forrest said, citing construction inflation and other issues. State Building Commission members voted Jan. 13 to increase the total project by $5.5 million, taking it from $29.15 million to $34.65 million.
“I’m not surprised about construction materials inflation,” said Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, chairman of the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee, in a phone interview last week.
But Gardenhire said he was surprised by the cancellation of the planned November 23 groundbreaking, “for some reason they postponed it. I don’t know why they postponed it. I showed up – and nobody was there.
“We may need to have some serious discussions with UTC folks about this and other projects they might want,” Gardenhire added.
Forrest said in Friday’s interview that the project was delayed “because of these significant inflation issues that we had to deal with [State Building Commission] and received approval to increase the scope of the project and now proceed with obtaining contract award. And then we have a groundbreaking ceremony soon after.”
He said officials hope that will happen in the next two to three months.
The overall project involves the refurbishment of the Gate 1 area of McKenzie Arena and adjacent areas, as well as new construction that will include athletic training rooms, football locker rooms, various campus meeting rooms and a large multi-purpose room that can be used by the athletics and also by the campus community.
“What we need for those two areas in particular,” Forrest added.
Existing room renovations include McKenzie’s men’s and women’s locker rooms.
“A whole lot of areas that are touched on there in the arena which we think will be a significant improvement not only for the arena but also for the gateway to the campus knowing that the vast majority of the visitors that every Coming to campus day, coming off Fourth Street,” Forrest said.
“We are now confident with these numbers and are confident that they will adequately match the supply market to move the project forward,” Forrest said. “We have the preliminary bids in hand from the general contractor and know those numbers are where we need to be and poised to move forward thanks to recent action by the State Building Commission.”
Contact Andy Sher at [email protected] or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.