The O’Connell Center isn’t just the venue that houses the Florida men’s and women’s basketball teams, the back-to-back national champion gymnastics team and the volleyball team. It’s not just where your favorite artist comes into town to perform or where students can attend job fairs or take part in Dance Marathon.
It’s more than that.
It’s the place where every high school student walked across the stage this past weekend as they finished their high school careers. It’s the place where thousands of college seniors realized a lifetime of hard work come full circle as they walked across the same stage to receive their college diplomas.
Countless dribbles, footsteps, vaults, sweat and tears have worn down one of the most distinguishable buildings on campus and it’s time that ole gal got a face lift.
Tuesday the school announced the approval of an approximate $45 million dollar renovation to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center by
the UAA Board of Directors. The plan to renovate the O’Connell Center was pushed to the forefront of the to-do list and the approval on Tuesday was almost a formality.
This major renovation was long overdue. The O’Dome has had minor renovations in the past — the most recent in 2006 when four 12’ x 16’ video boards were installed to the tune of $2.5 million dollars. $900,000 dollars were spent in 2011 to reconfigure some lower-bowl seating but these renovations pale in comparison to the overhaul that the O’Connell Center is set to undergo.
The next step for the UAA and the University of Florida will be to hire a firm to begin the process of turning computer renderings into blueprints and a real plan. Athletic Director Jeremy Foley has built a championship level program at Florida and he now wants to bring the venue that many of those teams compete in up to par.
“Look at the programs that compete in that building,” Foley told Chris Harry of Gatorzone.com. “Men’s basketball is recognized as one of the country’s best. Gymnastics has won back-to-back national championships. We’ve got a volleyball team that has dominated the Southeastern Conference for years and a women’s basketball team that’s on the rise. It’s just time to bring it up to the 21st century.”
The renovations will include an atrium facing east towards Gale Lemerand Drive (and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium), which will serve as a “prominent main entrance,” club seating and a club lounge, permanent chair-back seats in the lower level, a “center-hung, high-definition video board and new sound system”, a new concourse and concession stands throughout the arena, new offices for staff and a new locker room for the teams as well as an updated “mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.”
The current seating capacity of 11,548 will take a hit with the renovations due to changing the seating around in the lower bowl.
The announcement also detailed how funding was being split. The UAA will supply $35 million dollars towards the budget with the university coming up with the other $10 million.
Construction on the project is set to begin sometime after the 2014-15 basketball season. The estimated 10-month construction will force the volleyball team to relocate all of their scheduled home matches in 2015 and a portion of the basketball season as well.
The exact plans for when construction will begin and the precise timeline for the renovation have not been hammered out yet but today’s announcement paves the way for those plans to begin to take shape.