FAYETTEVILLE — The long wait for a basketball practice facility is almost over.
Arkansas announced Tuesday it will finally break ground on the $25 million facility on Dec. 7. A groundbreaking ceremony — which is open to the public — will be held at 11 a.m. prior to Arkansas’ home basketball game against Clemson.
The $25 million facility will be located on Leroy Pond Road next to Arkansas’ softball stadium. Construction is scheduled for completion by the summer of 2015.
"Although we are still in the process of raising the funding needed for the facility, it is critical we move ahead to provide our basketball programs with a facility to bring us up to the level of the institutions we compete with day in and day out in the SEC and around the region," Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said in a statement Tuesday morning. "I am confident that even as we begin construction, others will step up with support to help provide the our men’s and women’s basketball programs a comprehensive practice facility which will help us better serve the development needs of our current and future student-athletes."
The 66,000 square foot facility will house two basketball practice courts for the Arkansas men’s and women’s programs. It also will include men’s and women’s locker rooms, a weight room, an athletic training room, coaches’ offices, team meeting rooms, an equipment room and a lounge and study areas.
MAHG Architecture (Fort Smith) and Populous (Kansas City, Mo.) will lead the design team on the facility. CDI Constructors (Fayetteville and Little Rock) will serve as the general contractor for the project.
The facility is part of the three-pronged "Never Yield" fundraising campaign. It also includes a baseball/track indoor facility and student-athlete success center. Construction of the baseball/track facility began earlier this fall.
The three projects carry an estimated price tag between $45 and $58 million. The UA Board of Trustees approved plans to issue $36.5 million in bonds to help finance the projects last February.
Long said earlier this year that drumming up support for the basketball practice facility had been challenging. He said many believed it was a "frivolous spending of dollars." Long admitted Arkansas’ basketball struggles for much of the past decade were playing a part in the challenge as well.
"I’ve never had a facility that I’ve gotten more resistance about in a fanbase than I have this basketball practice facility," Long said during his appearance at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club meeting in September.
"This is unique. Because I talked to my colleagues around the country and none of them have had push back from folks about a basketball practice facility."
Arkansas — which is the only SEC program without a basketball practice facility — is an important recruiting tool. There are practical reasons for the building as well, making the scheduling of practice time easier for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Arkansas said freeing up Bud Walton Arena could allow for other luxuries, like guest speakers and concerts the arena can’t typically house during basketball season because the men’s and women’s teams need the facility.
"The Basketball Performance Center will give us the ability to hold practices and other team related activities at any time of the day independent of other scheduled events at Bud Walton Arena," Long said Tuesday. "It will also allow tremendous flexibility in accommodating student-athletes academic schedules to help further assist them on their track to graduation. The everyday use of the Basketball Performance Center will also allow us to explore more frequent and diverse uses of Bud Walton Arena. Additional campus and outside events could bring significant additional economic benefits to our region even beyond the current estimated $1 billion economic impact affiliated with Razorback Athletics in the next five years."
Arkansas is expected to receive signatures from three players for its 2014 class when the fall signing period opens today.
Forrest City center Trey Thompson (6-foot-9, 245 pounds) and guard Martin (Texas) High guard Nick Babb (6-4, 195) are set to sign scholarship papers today, according to Hawgs Illustrated. North Little Rock guard Anton Beard (6-0, 175) is scheduled to sign with the Razorbacks on Thursday.
All three are rated as three-star prospects on a five-star scale by Scout.com.