An early brick in the foundation of the Kentucky football program was laid Friday when the university's governing body approved the construction of a new $45 million practice center on campus.
"A significant step for our football program," Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said of the board's approval, which allows UK to move forward with the privately financed project that is expected to be completed in early 2016.
The new two-floor practice complex, which will include administrative offices, locker rooms, team meeting rooms, lounge and training areas, and weight rooms, has multiple donors already, Barnhart said without naming anyone specifically.
"People have come forward and said, 'We want to help,' and 'How do we help?'" Barnhart said. "And so we began to talk about it, and it got legs and it worked."
When asked whether regular athletics contributors Joe Craft and Tim Couch had any hand in the practice center, Barnhart would not get into specifics.
Craft put up a large portion of the money for the $30 million basketball practice center attached to Memorial Coliseum, and Couch, a former UK football All-American, helped finance the current practice fields.
"We've got multiple donors, and they've been tremendous in the process," he said. "We got a long ways to go."
The practice center will neighbor Commonwealth Stadium and could be attached to the existing indoor practice center. UK already has raised $23 million in private donations, UK spokesman Dewayne Peevy confirmed.
As the proposed complex moved through the bureaucratic process Friday, a member of the board's finance committee asked whether the project would have enough money.
"Everybody feels certain the balance will be raised from total private funds," said chairman James Stuckert, whose finance committee sent the measure through with no discussion.
Coach Mark Stoops and his recruiting efforts get a large portion of the credit when the money is raised and the project gets under way, Barnhart said.
"His ability to interact with people and say, 'This is important. As I've been other places and these are the things that I've seen; this is what I'm competing against. We can do this, but this would be helpful to us,'" Barnhart said.
The practice center will be built in conjunction with the $110 million renovation project already beginning at the stadium, which is adding premium seating, private suites and a multi-purpose recruiting room among other amenities.
"There could be some bumps in terms of those projects bumping up next to each other during the process, but as I look at it, the start/finish of them are probably six months separated," Barnhart said.
In all, the combined $155 million worth of football renovations would be somewhere in the middle of the Southeastern Conference when comparing them to other school's current projects.
There's the combined $466 million renovation of Texas A&M's Kyle Field and practice facility as well as other similar reported renovations at Arkansas ($130 million), Missouri ($102 million), Mississippi State ($75 million) and Louisiana State ($70 million).
As he discussed the football program, athletics board chairman C.B. Akins argued that "football needs to work or the rest of it doesn't work."
Barnhart noted that all UK sports are dependent on revenues generated by football and men's basketball through tickets, concessions, souvenirs, corporate and media deals as well as revenue sharing within the SEC.
"So all of our 20 other sports programs are dependent upon those two sports programs to make it financially," he said. "If those two don't make it financially it makes it really, really difficult for the rest of them to have all the resources they need to be successful."
Stoops was under the weather on Friday and wasn't able to attend the board of trustees meeting, but personally called Akins that morning to thank him for the board's support.
"We are so excited to get this project started and I am thankful to all of those involved," Stoops said in a release sent out by the school Friday afternoon. "Once again, this is an indication of the great commitment from our administration and our supporters who are making this happen."
The current building that houses the football team will be repurposed to house the track and field and gymnastics programs.
The turf practice field adjacent to the Nutter facility will be kept for training purposes for all sports teams and the two grass fields used for football practices will be given back to the university.