The long-awaited Wolford Family Athletics Center is still on the horizon for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
It's now a matter of where it will be located.
UTC athletic director Mark Wharton said that representatives of the Populous Architectural Design global firm have made three trips to campus and will visit again today to discuss whether the Wolford Center should be attached to McKenzie Arena or be constructed at the site currently occupied by Engel Stadium.
Wharton said Populous officials will formulate a master plan that includes renovations to McKenzie Arena and Maclellan Gymnasium in addition to the placement of the Wolford Center.
"They will literally prioritize what we're going to do," Wharton said. "We could possibly move the Wolford Center to Engel Stadium and have that as a dedicated practice facility for football. That practice facility would be able to have a soccer stadium in it, or we could put a track in it.
"We rent everything and own very little, and we're looking at how we can bring this all in to where we have a home for all our teams. We don't have a 100-yard field on our campus that we can practice on. Scrappy (Moore Field) has two 50s or two 60s, and when it rains, we have nowhere to go."
UTC chancellor Steven Angle announced in March that a financial plan was in place to start construction on a 35,000-square-foot addition to McKenzie Arena named for the late James "Bucky" Wolford, a standout running back and defensive back for the Mocs in the late 1960s who was a devout supporter of all athletic programs at the school.
The announced project would also include significant renovations to McKenzie Arena, which was built in 1982, with the Wolford Center addition located between Gate 1 of the arena and the main loading ramp off the corner of Fifth and Mabel streets. The Wolford Center is expected to include a sports medicine area, a hydrotherapy section, a new football locker room and coaching offices.
It has been more than a decade since the first concepts of a student-athlete center were birthed under former athletic director Rick Hart. He was replaced by David Blackburn, who provided the first public renderings and told the Times Free Press that such a project would cost anywhere from $12 million to $18 million. Wharton was hired in August 2017.
The Wolford Center has been a long time coming, and Wharton insists it's still coming, but when and where that first shovel will be lifted remains unknown.
"We're trying to solve problems to control our own destiny in a lot of ways," Wharton said, "and when that report comes back, we'll sit down and put a road map together. I would be shocked if we didn't move dirt by August, and I'm really thinking July. Most projects are 18 months.
"The chancellor is more antsy than I am, and I'm pretty antsy. We've got the resources. We just want to do what's right for the long term at UTC, because this won't just transform football but our total athletic program."
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