Inside Texas Tech: New Sports Performance Center

Aug 3, 2017

There’s a constant hum and whir as I approach the construction site of the new Sports Performance Center near Jones AT&T Stadium. Machines are buzzing and workers in hardhats are moving around like ants circling their mound. They’re working 24-7 these days so the indoor football space is useable in time for fall practices.

The structure looks big from the outside, but stepping inside, hardhat in place, I am wowed by enormity of the space. I’ve never been inside a 747 hangar, but it sure looks like one of those jumbo jets could fit inside.

On a recent tour of the $48 million dollar facility, Michael Molina, Texas Tech System’s vice chancellor for facilities planning and construction, and I watched as workers lay the last strip of field turf, the same type that’s in the stadium. Scores of other workers continue to labor on various facets of construction of the track-and-field portion of the 154,000 square foot center.

The first 30 feet of the Sports Performance Center’s exterior matches the campus’ Spanish Renaissance architecture. Above that familiar look, there are translucent panels, which will capture natural light from the north. Those panels will be significantly taller on the football side.

Inside, though, the design is utilitarian, without much glitz. According to Molina, that was intentional.

One side of the center houses the indoor football practice field. Huge sliding doors separate it from the indoor track-and-field portion that will have a six-lane, 200-meter oval track. At its highest point, the football side is ninety feet tall and stretches nearly 400 feet. The field is 80 yards long with two 10-yard end zones.

The center will be the largest indoor collegiate athletics facility in the country. In addition to the football and track portions, there will be a nutritional food bar, and a strength and conditioning area for athletes in every sport but football, men’s and women’s basketball, and volleyball. Athletes in those sports already have their own strength and conditioning operations elsewhere.

Eaton’s Ephesus Lighting, out of Syracuse, New York, is installing LED-driven, low-voltage lighting, which will provide energy savings for the building.

Athletics director, Kirby Hocutt says recruits’ heads will be turned but so will those of Lubbock residents and alumni.

Beginning in 2014, Texas Tech’s athletic department began its Campaign for Fearless Champions. The goal was, and still is, to raise funds to enhance athletic facilities, bolster student-athlete scholarship endowments and grow the J.T. & Margaret Talkington Leadership Academy.

Hocutt said that to-date, 22 of 25 sports facilities have been updated, enhanced or newly built.

No state or university funds were used, only private dollars from campaign donations. The total is currently about $125 million dollars. And in keeping with the 1998 Board of Regents’ initiative that dedicates one percent of the cost of any new capital project to public art, the Sports Performance Center’s piece will be at the southwest corner of the facility. “RUN,” by Simon Donovan of Tucson, Arizona, will stand 18 feet tall and be nearly 18 feet wide and depict a female track athlete appearing to be in motion.

The indoor football field will forever end the program having to cancel outdoor sessions due to rain, hail or lightning. Last year as many as 10 sessions had to be scrubbed due to weather. “At this level, missing practices is too critical to what we do,” Hocutt said.

On the track side, there will be permanent seating for 750 on the west wall. A 100-foot airplane-hanger-like door separates the two center’s two sides. Another 1,200 temporary seats could be placed in the opening during bigger events.

The track facility means the team will no longer have to travel during the sport’s indoor season. And, Hocutt said, the track-and-field area is already attracting interest from big-name programs, which will likely boost the city’s economy.

According to Hocutt, the track team will never have to leave Lubbock, Texas during the indoor track and field season. "We’re getting calls from the University of Texas, the University of Oregon, elite programs around the country are wanting to come to our indoor track meets now. So when you think about the economic impact from the dollars it’s going to bring from the restaurant, hotel, transportation into our economy, it’s going to be tremendous," he said.

Rain slowed construction early on after the Bubble was torn down.  Molina said as much as eight feet of water twice filled the hole where the former structure stood. Workers have made up about three-quarters of the 30 days lost to having to drain the ‘duck ponds,’ as he called it.

More recently, rains – one that left 9 inches of water in front of the building’s entrance -- have slowed some outside work but inside, the pace remains brisk. "We’re working 24-7. You may not see it from the outside, but that trailer’s operating 24-7 planning for the next two three days every day," Molina said. 

Standing near the site of the oval track, I asked Molina whether there would take a victory lap once the entire facility is finished. "I probably will as long as there’s not cameras or timers anywhere," he joked.

Earlier this summer Molina visited the cornfield in Iowa where the movie “Field of Dreams” was filmed. He sees a comparison between the Sports Performance Center’s completion to the famous phrase from the movie. "If you build it, they’ve been waiting to come...this has been a long time coming."