University of Virginia athletic director Carla Williams likes to leave the windows of her McCue Center office open, better to hear the sounds of construction outside the building. The noise rarely abates.
“All day, every day,” Williams said, smiling. “I love it.”
From her office on the top floor, Williams can look out and see UVA’s new football operations center starting to take shape. Work started last summer on the $80 million facility, which will cover 90,000 square feet and is scheduled to open in the spring of 2024.
“Football has a special place at UVA, and now our football program will have a very special place to call home,” University President Jim Ryan said at the groundbreaking ceremony last June.
The football center is not the only new construction planned for that area. Site work is set to begin this spring on the $75 million Olympic Sports Center, a project that will include renovation of the McCue Center, which has housed UVA’s football program since 1991.
At a meeting of UVA’s Board of Visitors last month, the Building and Grounds Committee approved the schematic design of the Olympic Sports Center, which is scheduled to open in the spring of 2025.
“This is absolutely transformational,” Lars Tiffany, head coach of the UVA men’s lacrosse team, said.
Tiffany, who guided the Cavaliers to NCAA titles in 2019 and 2021, said he remembers the day last year when he learned “that the Olympic Sports Center was now a priority, and driven not only by [athletic] administration but University administration. I’ve told people that’s the third-best day I’ve had at UVA as the men’s lacrosse coach, and the other two are pretty obvious.”
Being able to share renderings of and plans for the Olympic Sports Center with recruits has helped his program tremendously, Tiffany said. So has the ongoing work on the football operations center.
“I’ve sent pictures of that to recruits and told them, ‘This is not ours, but it’s the beginning of what’s going to happen on the east side of McCue,’” Tiffany said.
For many years, the locker rooms for Cavalier field hockey, men’s cross country, men’s track and field, women’s cross country, women’s track and field, men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse, men’s soccer, women’s soccer and rowing were in University Hall.
By the end of 2018, however, those teams had moved into locker rooms at the new Training Grounds, a group of trailers set up on the site of the former Onesty Hall parking lot, and U-Hall was demolished in the spring of 2019. Also at the Training Grounds are units devoted to strength and conditioning, academic advising, sports nutrition and equipment.
“You have to really appreciate the student-athletes who sacrificed by not having a permanent home,” Williams said. “[The Olympic Sports Center] will be great for them. It’ll be great for those sports programs and the coaches.”
For men’s lacrosse, which has about 45 players on its roster, its Training Ground locker room is “cozy. We know each other well,” Tiffany said, laughing. “We are sardined in there.”
If the setup has been less than ideal, the programs housed in the Training Grounds have, with few exceptions, still managed to shine. Among other accomplishments in recent years: Men’s lacrosse has won two NCAA titles, field hockey has reached the NCAA tournament’s final four, men’s soccer and women’s soccer have advanced to their respective College Cup, rowing has remained a top-10 program nationally, and track and field has had two NCAA individual champions and multiple All-Americans.
“Can you imagine the incredible boost to these programs once they have a permanent home?” Williams said.
The temporary housing has hurt Cavalier teams in recruiting, coaches say, with other schools able to offer better facilities with more amenities. The current setup also poses logistical problems for some UVA teams, most notably rowing.
Including coxswains, head coach Kevin Sauer has about 70 women in the program. When it’s time for the rowers to lift weights, half of them go to Disharoon Park, home of the UVA baseball team, and the other half to go weight room at the Training Grounds, after which “they get showered up and go to class,” Sauer said.
His team often works out of the Thomas Temple Allan Boathouse on the west bank of Rivanna Reservoir. “But because we’re not rowing on the water yet in the mornings, we’re at Slaughter Rec Center [on Grounds],” Sauer said. “So there’s another spot. Three different places.”
The team’s ergs and exercise bikes are at Slaughter, along with a two-person rowing tank in one of the squash courts, Sauer said. Setting up for workouts, and then storing the equipment, is a laborious process. And so the opening of the Olympic Sports Center will be a godsend for his program, Sauer said. “We can have our land training and our lifting and our locker room and all that in one place.”
The Wahoos will still use the boathouse, but everything else they need will be at the Olympic Sports Center, Sauer said, including a large meeting room.
“Nutrition will be there,” Sauer said. “They won’t have to go to another trailer for nutrition. It’ll be really cool that they’ll just go there and do their indoor training, their lifting there, we can do team meetings there.
“It’ll just eliminate a lot of movement. It’ll be more time-efficient. The biggest thing is, the kids see that somebody cares about them. It’s like, ‘Wow, rowing has a locker room in the new facility, they have a place to work out, there’s nutrition right there, and the weight room is much bigger than the one we have now.’ We won’t have to worry about scheduling. We’ll be able to lift when we want and where we want, versus being in two different facilities. It’ll be huge for us.”
Williams came to UVA from the University of Georgia in December 2017, and she immediately made upgrading the department’s aging facilities a priority.
“My second day here, we took a tour of the facilities and saw the need,” Williams recalled last spring. “Not just the need for football, but the need for some of our Olympic sports was profound.”
In September 2018, the Board of Visitors approved a master plan intended to transform the athletics precinct on North Grounds, and the Virginia Athletics Foundation began fundraising for the projects. The first phase – two lighted natural-grass practice fields for football – was completed in the summer of 2020. Given the impact of the pandemic, it has taken longer than Williams expected for work on the next two phases to begin.
“We’ve had many hurdles to clear to get this done,” she said. “I knew it would be difficult, but there was no option, really. It had to be done.”
UVA has 27 varsity teams, and all will use the Olympic Sports Center, Williams said. Along with a renovated McCue Center, it will house the Center for Citizen Leaders and Sports Ethics and other student-development initiatives.
Once the football program moves into its new operations center next year, the first floor of the McCue Center, which currently includes the football weight room, the football locker room, the football equipment room, and an office for sports medicine and athletic training, will be gutted, Williams said, and work on the Olympic Sports Center will accelerate.
The new building will be connected to the McCue Center, and it will feature new locker rooms and offices, conference rooms, meeting rooms and areas for sports medicine, performance and training, nutrition and equipment.
The coaches whose offices are currently in the McCue Center will eventually move to the Olympic Sports Center.
“We’re ecstatic that this project is moving forward,” Tiffany said.
So, too, is Williams.
“We are so thankful to the BOV and President Ryan, the VAF and our donors for making this possible,” she said.
Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations
March 22, 2023