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Maryland’s new indoor football facility, set to be finished next year, brings program up to speed

The Cole Field House renovation project is on schedule to be completed next year. (Emily Giambalvo/The Washington Post)

Michael Locksley wanted to be the coach at Maryland. It’s the school just 10 miles from his childhood home, and the one where he had worked two previous stints as an assistant. But as Athletic Director Damon Evans worked to reel in Locksley from Alabama late last year, the massive construction zone adjacent to the football stadium didn’t hurt.

The Terrapins didn’t have an indoor practice facility until 2017, making Maryland the last Big Ten football program to build one. And now the school aims to keep up with the sport’s elite with the nearing completion of the $196 million Cole Field House project that adds more high-end spaces for football, two outdoor fields, resources for other Maryland athletes and a large academic wing.

“You want your resources to match expectations,” Evans said. “When you’re competing with all these teams, not only in the Big Ten but around the country, and you see what they have, recruits, student-athletes, prospects, they like the bright, shiny toys. So it was very, very helpful.”

The school expects the football performance center to open in the fall or winter of 2020, with the completion of the academic area coming a year later. With about a year until the football facility’s unveiling, the school invited media members to tour the construction zone last week.

Fundraising for the project, which was initially expected to cost $155 million, began in 2014, but the estimated cost rose to $196 million in 2017. The university recently asked the Board of Regents for authorization to spend an additional $14 million because of higher construction and labor costs “across many statewide projects,” a Maryland athletics spokesman said. The athletic department has raised about $60 million for the project.

The first floor of the facility, which attaches to the indoor practice field inside the old basketball arena, will include a weight room that is 20,000 square feet, about three times the size of Maryland’s current one in Gossett Team House. The facility will also include a 4,000-square-foot cardio mezzanine that looks out over the weight room. The wall between the weight room and the indoor field will have glass and bay doors to allow easy access between the two spaces.

A 270-foot tunnel that stretches under Fieldhouse Drive and curves under the weight room connects Maryland Stadium to the locker room. An auditorium that spans two levels will be used for football team meetings and can seat about 195 people.

“To me, it'll be on the upper end of [college facilities] once it's completed and done the way that it's done,” Locksley said. “They haven't cut any corners with it. It will have a ‘wow’ effect."

Locksley’s office looks out over the two outdoor fields. In a few months, construction workers will lay Bermuda grass, which gives the fields a “tight, fast surface,” Locksley said.

The facility will include a locker room for former players now in the NFL to encourage them to return to campus to work out in the offseason.

“It allows us to collaborate and keep in touch,” said associate athletic director Joshua Kaplan, who oversees capital construction, facilities, operations and events. “We want to keep cultivating that relationship. We also want to show the young men and women at 18, 19 years old that there is a pinnacle in your career that you can get to if you work hard and do well in academics and all those things.”

Without the indoor field included, the football-related areas of the facility equal the space dedicated to academic research. That wing will house the Center for Brain Health and Human Performance, where experts in various fields and students will collaborate to study topics such as brain injuries. The center is a partnership between the University of Maryland’s Baltimore and College Park campuses, and the new space will help centralize their work.

All Maryland athletes will use the Cole Field House facility for sports medicine and dining purposes. Other entities around campus can use the indoor facility for various purposes, such as the campus recreation center’s flag football championship.

A recruiting room and a 3,000-square-foot patio that looks out on Maryland Stadium and the rest of campus will host visiting prospects. The outdoor space above the weight room is fit for functions of 300 to 500 people.

“We want to open our doors,” Kaplan said. “We want to have a space to welcome everybody."

The day after Locksley’s introductory news conference in December, the new coach met with Kaplan to discuss the facility. Kaplan showed Locksley the plans and went through all of the elements of the facility. Locksley had some suggestions based on what he had seen at other schools, Kaplan said, and Maryland has made some subtle changes to accommodate Locksley’s vision for his program.

While the building’s unveiling still looms well in the future, the end result will come as a welcome step forward for a football team trying to keep pace with the powers in the sport.

“We want to be one of the premier programs,” Evans said. “And to be a premier program, you’ve got to have premier facilities.”

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