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This artist's rendering shows plans for the renovations to McKenzie Arena and the new Wolford Family Athletics Center at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The planned construction is now expected to cost $22 million, according to estimates approved last week by the State Building Commission.

NASHVILLE — Plans to renovate and expand UTC's football and athletic training facilities took a major step last week as a state panel OK'd a contract for a construction manager and general contractor on the estimated $22 million project.

State Building Commissioner members approved the selection of Birmingham, Ala.-based Hoar Construction.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's plans currently call for extensive renovations to an existing 26,300 square feet of space in the nearly 37-year-old McKenzie Arena, along with a new 39,250-square-foot adjoining building to house the Mocs football program with ancillary exercise facilities and more.

Hoar, which has offices in Brentwood, won out over four competing firms with its $1.63 million bid. Selections were scored with a technical score receiving 70% of the weight and the cost proposal receiving 30%.

The highest bid was $1.76 million, according to information from Shelli King, spokeswoman for state Treasurer David Lillard, a State Building Commission member. The project's designer and architect, approved by the SBC in August, is Derthick, Henlsey & Wilkerson Architects under a $1.27 million contract.

The new Athletics Center is to be named after the late UTC football All-American Bucky Wolford, a Chattanooga businessman and longtime university booster who died last year. It will house the Mocs football program with ancillary exercise facilities and more.

Of the projected $22 million cost, $18.5 million will come from Tennessee State School Bond Authority proceeds. The remaining $3.5 million comes from gifts. UTC provided many details on the plan last March.

While UTC officials have outlined tentative plans, architects Derthick, Henley & Wilkerson will be working with Hoar on the actual design under the chosen project delivery method, according to King.

"They appear to be on the right track," said state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee along with Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, the panel's chairman.

In recent months, state lawmakers and officials have become sensitized to ongoing cost overrruns among many state government building projects. The issue crystalized last spring on the House floor during passage of the state's annual budget when it was revealed unanticipated costs for the new inn at Fall Creek Falls State Park in Van Buren County exploded by $11 million or 37.3 percent. The project grew from $29.4 million to $40.4 million.

That required an additional expenditure from the state's general fund. The blowup has led to the state vowing to get a grip on estimating construction costs in a state where building booms in Nashville and other areas have caused building inflation to soar.

The UTC project's costs have risen as well under refinements to the proposal.

"They've had a discussion about 'don't come with cost overruns, don't come back wanting more money,'" Gardenhire said. "Whatever we've allocated, that's what your going to get. We want to know what we're dealing with and stay within the budget."

The university's football program is expected to be a major beneficiary with plans for a new locker room, coaches' offices and meeting rooms along with a university-wide multipurpose space.

It also includes new exercise facilities and a major revamp of audio-visual operations.

Plans call for the new building to connect to McKenzie between Gate 1 and the main loading ramp off the corner of 5th and Mabel streets.

There will also be a major renovation inside McKenzie Arena, home to the Mocs' basketball programs. It includes new locker rooms for the men's and women's basketball teams, new working spaces for the athletics staff and coaches with offices in the arena and the refurbishing of a number of restrooms.

The arena is also used for a variety of non-athletic entertainment events.

Gardenhire said he anticipates the project will also have a spillover effect.

"They're going to move a lot of things out of another place into that new addition at McKenzie Arena and that'll free up other spaces they can redo," the senator said.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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