Published on September 1st, 2013 | by UC&D Magazine


Keeping Up with the Joneses

Emotions ran high during the August 15 grand opening of the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center at the University of Utah, a stylish and sophisticated $32 million facility that illustrates the U’s mission to be a major player in the ultra-competitive PAC-12 conference.

“I am so excited about this building,” said Coach Kyle Whittingham, who has coached at Utah since 1994 and is entering his ninth season as head coach. “I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting for this and what a difference it has made in the whole atmosphere of our football team. This building is unbelievable.”

Whittingham added that having a state-of-the-art football center is an absolute must for any football program hoping to stay on the same page as other PAC-12 schools.  >>

“The PAC-12 is an all-out arms race,” he said. “Of the 12 teams in the PAC-12, 10 have either recently completed a new (football) facility or have shovels in the ground. It’s an ongoing process. Everyone is trying to keep up with the Joneses and we feel we’re out front with this building.”

Utah Athletic Director Chris Hill was equally ecstatic, praising the efforts of the design and construction teams, along with thanking all those who contributed to the funding of the project, particularly the Eccles family.

“So many people worked so hard on this project and looked over every detail of this building,” said Hill. “Coach Whit and I had very little to do with the details of the building. Coach gave us a wish list of what he wanted, I said I wanted it to look nice from the front, and we got out of the way.

“We are now competing with the biggest of the bigs and we’re going to get there,” Hill continued. “This building means a lot towards our overall success. Everybody thinks we have 18 (athletic) teams. No, no. We have 19 teams, because we have the ‘Eccles Team’.”

Spence Eccles, perhaps the most passionate Ute alum and football fan, spoke briefly about the importance of this building to Utah’s athletic programs, and also how special it is to his family personally, particularly with Cleone’s death this past April. Eccles choked up a couple of times as he talked about himself and Cleone meeting at the U in the early 50’s, their eventual 58-year marriage, their love of Utah athletics, and how humbled he was to have the center named after both of them.

“This extraordinary football center is an integral University asset, and I believe it will be very competitive with the other University (football) centers across the country, and especially the other PAC-12 centers,” said Eccles, who was an All-American on the Utes’ ski team. “And I say with great confidence that it will be used very successfully by our coaches and student-athletes, and of its vital role as the heart of not only our football program, but as a contributing resource to all our athletic teams.”

The completion of the center came just weeks before the opening of the Utes’ third season in the PAC-12 and signals a new era in Utah football. Designed by VCBO Architecture of Salt Lake City and built by Layton Construction of Sandy, the building was far from an ordinary project for those involved with its design and construction.

According to Derek Payne, Project Architect with VCBO, much time and effort was spent during the design/pre-construction process to come up with a facility that rivals other big-time universities. Because the project was design-build, members of the design and construction team traveled to eight PAC-12 schools, along with big-time Southeastern Conference programs Alabama and Auburn, to gain greater perspective on what ‘the Joneses’ were doing. Payne said seven of those 10 schools – including Ute PAC-12 foes Oregon, USC, California, Arizona and Arizona State – were all in the design and/or construction process of new football centers themselves at that time.

“It helped us to know what we would be competing against,” said Payne.

U of U locker room

“Being it was a design-build project, a lot of ideas that were incorporated were initiated by the construction team,” said Jake Greenland, Project Manager for Layton. “We were very intimate with this project from the beginning and had our hands in everything from constructability to design concepts. We interfaced with the user group to formulate ideas that makes this one of the top football facilities in the nation as far as function, flexibility, and overall concept of the building.”

The 152,211 SF, two-story center features a plethora of first-class amenities, including a 20,000 SF strength and conditioning area (named for ex-Ute and current Kansas City Chief quarterback Alex Smith), a sports medicine/training facility with multiple high-tech hydrotherapy pools, a 160-seat auditorium, 47,000 SF of individual meeting rooms for each of the various positions, a swanky players’ lounge complete with large screen TVs and games, a spatial 250-seat cafeteria and other corresponding nutritional areas, coaches offices, a video/editing production studio and a stately 6,500 SF football locker room complete with leather seats and high-end wood finishes. There is also a ‘Hall of Fame’ area honoring past Utah football greats and an interactive display with helmets of NFL teams former Utes have played for.

The exterior is highlighted by brick masonry in various patterns which compliments two adjoining buildings (Eccles Tennis Center and Eccles Fieldhouse), and a glass feature on the north side of the Hall of Fame which is fitted with three large holo-screens which will project images that will be visible from the north plaza. Sustainable elements include heat recovery from the exhaust air in the locker areas and from hot water from the laundry room, a ‘super-efficient’ indirect/direct, three-stage evaporative cooling system, and careful use of glazing to gain natural light and outside views with minimal heat gain/loss.

Because the building is close to the Wasatch Fault and is essentially built into a hillside, it offered some unique structural engineering challenges, according to Jerod Johnson of Salt Lake-based Reaveley Engineers + Associates.

U of U training-pools“We had to introduce within the lateral system of the building a mechanism to brace against lateral earth pressures that want to push it to the west,” said Johnson of the brace frame and sheer wall building.

Payne recalled that Whittingham stated on many occasions that “you build these spaces for two groups of people – the kids in the program now and the kids that you want to be in your program” – a nod to the essential and perpetual nature of recruiting.

“That was an important part of the decision-making process,” said Payne. “The path for taking a recruit through the building has been highly choreographed so that not only is a recruit impressed by the experience, but they truly get a sense of what it is like to be a player at the University of Utah. The spaces were also designed to enhance camaraderie. Players have spaces they want to be in when they’re not practicing.”

Utah senior defensive end Trevor Reilly echoed that sentiment by saying “the biggest difference between this year and last year is team camaraderie – this facility has a lot to do with that. Most of these guys never want to leave this place. People come to work happy….it just makes life that much easier.”

Payne, Johnson and Greenland all admitted that working on this project was uniquely special to them.

“I am a University of Utah alumnus and also a huge sports fan, which made this project poignant for me,” Payne said. “This is also the third football center I have designed…each was a blast to work on.”

“We are a (University of) Utah firm; we have some BYU folks but by and large we are Utah graduates,” added Johnson. “We couldn’t have been more excited to be part of this job.”

“It was like being a part of the (University of Utah) family,” said Greenland. “It was awesome.”   n


Spence and Cleone Eccles
Football Center

Cost: $32 Million

Owner: University of Utah

Architect: VCBO Architecture

GC: Layton Construction

Engineering Team

Civil: Psomas

Electrical: Ken Garner Engineering

Mechanical: Colvin Engineering

Structural: Reaveley Engineers + Associates

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