SOUTH BEND — The urgency was more about practicality than about keeping up with opulence in an escalating football facilities arm race.
And by next July, if everything goes according to schedule, the congestion in Notre Dame’s 30-year-old Loftus Center will be alleviated, and the Irish football team and men’s and women’s soccer teams will have a new indoor facility to call home.
The university made the official announcement Friday, with construction to begin “soon.” And according to the university release, the 111,400-square-foot Irish Indoor Athletics Center has been underwritten by gifts from a number of benefactors.
The demand at the Loftus Center from the university’s 26 sports and other activities means the facility has been used at least 18 hours a day during the winter months. That includes all eight spring football practices so far.
The time share was hardly ideal for the football team and was becoming impossible. In a Tribune story on a day in the life of Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly, published last summer, he spoke about the challenges.
Sometimes the Loftus wasn’t available for team runs, for example, so director of football performance Matt Balis worked around that by starting the football team’s lifting rotations as early as 5 a.m.
“And now the NCAA has legislated that we can’t start before 6,” Kelly said. “So we have to have our own building or else just play William & Mary more often, or we’ll be in trouble.”
The new facility will be constructed on the site of what is now the western-most field of three fields that comprise the LaBar Practice Complex, or closest to the Joyce Center.
Per Kelly, on the eastern edge of the new indoor field will be a bank of exit doors, so the team can easily transition out to the two remaining outdoor fields. There will be a large videoboard in the indoor facility.
“Everything to recreate a game-day atmosphere,” Kelly said.
Kelly points out that the new facility will have a peak of 76 feet, so kickoffs and punting can be performed without taking out chunks of the ceiling. The Loftus has a peak of 52 feet.
According to the university release, the new facility may also play host to campus-wide and community events, sports camps, recreational and club sports, pep rallies, game-day hospitality and other functions.
“Much as we have done with our approach to the Compton Family Ice Arena and the recent additions surrounding the football stadium, our focus when developing athletic facilities is to create uses that extend beyond varsity athletics,” Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said.
“In this instance, in addition to creating what we believe will be the best indoor football practice facility in the country, we are creating additional recreational, club sport and community opportunities, while also ensuring that the students on our other varsity teams are practicing at times that allow for a more typical student experience.”
Not included in the release were details about imminent changes to the Guglielmino Athletics Complex that Kelly last summer detailed to the Tribune.
The southern edge of it would expand all the way to the street that now runs between it and LaBar. The street itself will close to traffic and become a pedestrian walkway. A walkway bridge tentatively will connect the Gug and the indoor field.
On the second floor in the new addition to the Gug would be kitchen facilities and a dining area for training table. Currently, all the food is wheeled in from across campus. There will also be academic suites, where players can study and get tutoring.
“The first thing that has to go up is the indoor facility,” Kelly says, “so we can train properly, but the nutrition and academic areas are very important too.”