Construction begins on new Athletics Center


Ground has been broken across the street from FMU where the new Athletics Center will be built. A track-ho, one piece of many types of equipment being used, sits in the field that will house the facility.

Daniel Purves, Staff Writer

Construction of Francis Marion University’s new Athletics Center has entered its second month and the project is on schedule to be completed by the end of the year.

“The new facilities will be a tremendous benefit to FMU,” Director of Athletics Murray Hartzler said. “Our current outdoor facilities are ranked near the bottom. We will go from one of the weakest in the conference to the best.”

A baseball stadium, seating 1,800 people, will be the centerpiece of the $11.3 million facility, which will also include floodlight softball and soccer pitches, as well as a four acre lake.

Two hundred students are enrolled on sports teams, with a further 50 percent of the student body estimated to use the existing facilities, which date back to the founding of the school. While the playing surfaces are good, the surrounding amenities are poor. The soccer pitch, for instance, does not have floodlights.

The new Athletics Center is being built on the west side of Francis Marion Road, opposite the main campus. The baseball stadium, aside from having a floodlight pitch, seating for 800 inside the stands and further 1000 on berms, will include a VIP conference suite which can cater to a variety of events and meetings outside of the sporting calendar, such as weddings. The softball and soccer teams will have high-quality, full-sized pitches, which will seat 500 and 800 respectively. There will also be a building dedicated to offices for the coaches.

“My main goal is that twenty years ahead people are still saying it’s great,” Hartzler said.

The four acre, 20-foot-deep lake was constructed to support research and natural sciences at FMU. It will be fully stocked by the Department of Natural Resources, with the hope that residents will come and fish.

Boating on the lake is another possibility, but that decision, along with other policies and procedures on usage for the Athletics Center, are to be decided during the summer and fall. It is likely that the facilities will be open to the community to use, with a charge levied to help maintain the grounds. Some groups, such as local schools, could be eligible for a discounted rate.

The Athletics Center also offers recreation for those less actively inclined, with walking trails through the woods and around the lake.

“We have tried to maintain the natural beauty of the area,” FMU President Dr. Luther Fred Carter said. “The center has been done as a green facility. We wanted to be conscious environmentally.”

The planning for the Athletics Center started six years ago. All the architectural designs been approved by the state, along with the budget. The $11.3 million in finances were raised through private contributions and 20 year bonds, which have all been sold.

Rather than employing any new staff to run the facility, the emphasis has been on ensuring the job security of those already working at FMU.

There is second phase planned, which would see the coaches offices expanded to include a weight room and changing facility. An additional $2 million needs to be raised before this project can move forward.

Negotiations are also undergoing for a further 60 acres going south, but with no plans to develop it yet.

“You never know where athletics is going to go,” Hartzler said. “We can update. We have left ourselves flexibility and are not boxed in. I think we set our facilities up with what we can foresee for 50 years at least.”

The Athletics Center is scheduled for substantial completion by December 2011. FMU will not take ownership, however, until they have had the opportunity to review the facility and make any changes that might be necessary.