Clemson moves forward on $55 million football operations center proposal

A rendering of Clemson's new football operations center. (Clemson University)

Someday in the not-too-distant future, Clemson’s entire football program will have a conveniently located home all to its own.

The Clemson board of trustees unanimously approved at its winter quarterly meeting Friday the concept for a state-of-the-art football operations center connected to the new indoor practice facility, which sits across a busy street from Memorial Stadium.

The adjusted proposal is for a 157,000-square foot, multiple-floor center housing all football-related functions. Those include coaching offices, player and coach locker rooms, a weight room, a training room, an equipment room, a dining area and team meeting rooms, all of which currently reside in the West End Zone within the football stadium.

At this time, the proposed project cost is $62 million, which will be entirely funded through private donations and athletic department revenues. Clemson hopes to break ground in early 2016, with plans to open the center sometime in spring or summer 2017.

Pre-approval on Oct. 29, 2013 was budgeted for a project cost of $30 million on a 60,000 to 80,000-square foot facility.

“Ultimately, we want to make sure we have all the program elements,” Clemson associate athletic director of finances and facilities Graham Neff said. “Yeah, it’s grown a bit from our initial thought to now, but that’s a consequence of making sure this becomes the stopping point for the next 30 years.”

Currently, Clemson’s locker room and 80,000-square foot indoor facility are separated by Perimeter Road, meaning players dress at Death Valley and take a short tram ride to and from practice, an increasingly bumbling process considering NCAA-governed weekly limits on student-athlete practice time.

“We want this to be the last move for football,” Neff said. “At the end of the day, is it going to be 157,000 square feet? Probably not, but yes, it is bigger than previously (planned).

“It’s going to be a live-work-play for the coaches, but the biggest benefit is going to be for the student-athletes so they’re not going back and forth.”

Said head coach Dabo Swinney in October 2013: “We could train our guys year-round across the street. Then on gameday, you walk in that locker room, it’s special. Seven days a year. Big picture, it would be a huge thing for us.”

The board also gave final approval to renovate the home of the men’s and women’s basketball teams, Littlejohn Coliseum, beginning in May. That project cost has decreased from $70 million to $63.5 million.

“It will be more intimate, because we’re not going to tear down the upper deck and rebuild it,” athletic director Dan Radakovich said. “That’s part of the reason our cost went down from the initial $70 million estimate to the $63.5 million where we are now.”

The coliseum’s seating capacity will decrease from 9,800 to 9,000, as the lower-bowl seats will be wider with additional leg room.

Also, the 10,000-square foot annex on the south end of Littlejohn Coliseum will be spruced up as a year-long gathering spot not just on basketball gamedays, but to host lectures, special guests, functions and banquets.

The basketball teams will be playing their 2015-16 games at Bon Secours Wellness Center in Greenville, 30 miles from Clemson’s campus. Littlejohn is slated to reopen in the fall of 2016.

Should the Clemson men’s team (currently 14-8 overall) qualify for the National Invitation Tournament, Littlejohn will be available to host games before reconstruction. The Tigers hosted three NIT games last year, including Illinois, which was unable to host Clemson due to its own arena undergoing offseason renovations.

Neff said the school is looking into how Littlejohn construction will affect football parking during the 2015 season.