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LINCOLN — Bill Moos gripped his ceremonial shovel and wore his hard hat shaped like a Husker helmet. Nebraska’s athletic director had planned on the groundbreaking for NU's $155 million football facility happening almost a year earlier — until COVID-19 halted the project.
Friday, the $80 million needed to start the project had been raised, key donors had their pictures taken and Moos, citing his habit of making “lemonades out of lemons” found a positive to the pandemic pause.
“We were able to spend 12 more months fine-tuning this design,” Moos said. “When it’s done, guys, it’ll literally blow people away. It’s the finest of its kind.”
NU must first demolish Ed Weir track before construction, and it won’t open the facility until summer 2023. When completed, Nebraska will be one of four schools, according to football administrator Matt Davison, that have their indoor practice field, locker room, training/eating area and stadium all adjacent to each other. A second phase of the project will include a new academic center and training table for all student-athletes.
“This is going to be a transformational building for all of athletics,” Davison said.
Coach Scott Frost said the building will be “spectacular” upon completion.
“Really, what we have right now is nice,” Frost said, referring to Husker facilities built in the mid-2000s. “I think, when this is done, what we’re going to have is the best.”
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Populus, a Kansas City-based firm that designs stadiums around the globe, is handling NU’s project along with BVH Architecture locally, and Moos isn’t sharing many details beyond what new renderings revealed Friday, which include a reflection pool under a large red roof that juts out in front of the building and, adjacent to the outdoor practice fields, window-lined doors that fold open like blinds as players transition from the grass to the weight room.
“We’re going to be able to lift the entire football team at the same time in the weight room,” Davison said. “That’s good for camaraderie.”
Originally announced Sept. 27, 2019, in the same location, the project languished for nearly a year in development because of the coronavirus pandemic. The original groundbreaking — set for June 2020 — was postponed as the university worked through the economic fallout of COVID and worked to secure more private donor funding.
“It’s great to be at a point where we’re coming out of this pandemic but it caused us to pause a little bit,” University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green said.
Former NU President Hank Bounds was paid $750,000 — with private money — to oversee fundraising of the project, although Green said Davison played a key role in securing important donations. In late 2020, the NU Board of Regents split the project into two phases to ease the fundraising load.
“We raised quite a bit of money before the pandemic hit, and none of our donors went away,” said Davison.
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Moos told The World-Herald in a previous interview a key $7 million pledge, secured in March, helped NU reach the $80 million mark needed to start and finish the first phase of the project. If Nebraska raises the last $20 million with haste, Moos said this week, it could complete the second phase simultaneously. Green said Friday Nebraska plans on doing so, and NU women’s basketball coach Amy Williams said the second phase will give an immediate boost to recruiting in all sports.
Groundbreaking comes as Nebraska, once a facility frontrunner in college football, has fallen behind Big Ten peers like Iowa, which completed its football facility in 2015, Purdue (2017), Northwestern (2018) and Illinois (2019). NU’s current setup, designed in the Bill Callahan era, presents challenges for the current team such as traversing a skyway and down a flight of stairs to go from the locker room to the practice facility. Many Husker teams have seamless transitions from locker room to practice areas. Many opposing college football teams do too.
Davison started envisioning a new facility even before Frost took the Husker job in 2017 — “I knew Scott was the right coach in place to do something this big” — and convinced Frost to push for a large project that administrators and Nebraska’s Board of Regents would approve.
“It’s going to sustain for a long time,” said Davison, who has been in every construction and design meeting. “This isn’t something where we’re going to have to upgrade it and it’s going to cost a whole bunch of money.”
Moos has said in recent years that NU’s facilities were no better than middle-of-the-pack in the league and, at the 2019 Big Ten Media Days, Frost said the team meeting room size left some players sitting in the aisles due to a lack of seats. Davison said the same Friday.
“It was too small,” Davison said. “Our team room can’t fit the team in it. Our locker room can’t fit the players in it. That’s a problem.”
Nebraska will have to make do with the current setup for two more seasons, but, in 2023, Nebraska will have all of its bells, whistles, big hallways and giant rooms in place.
“There have been countless, countless hours put into this,” Moos said. “We did the celebration today of putting the shovel into the ground, but now we’re ready for the real shovel. The sooner, the better.”