Washington-Grizzly Champions Center

The 46,000-square-foot Washington-Grizzly Champions Center is expected to be completed by fall 2017.

Courtesy University of Montana Athletics

As temperatures have climbed to thaw swaths of earth once buried by a season's worth of snow, the University of Montana draws closer and closer to breaking ground on the latest jewel of its athletics department.

But not too close.

Montana is still about six weeks from starting construction on the Washington-Grizzly Champions Center, athletic director Kent Haslam said Wednesday. The school is nearing the final preparations with contractors currently bidding for the project.

"We expect those bids to be back by early March," Haslam said. "Then we'll select a contractor with the goal for construction fences going up in early April, probably around spring break."

Montana's academic calendar shows spring break as the week of April 4-8.

The privately-funded $14-million project, approved by the state Board of Regents in November 2014, will house new locker rooms for the football team, as well as expansive team meeting spaces and a massive strength-and-conditioning center for use by all student-athletes. The center, designed by Missoula-based CTA Architects, will cover 46,000 square feet.

It will be an intricate enterprise, Haslam said, because of the Champions Center's location – tucked behind the southwest corner of Washington-Grizzly Stadium and hugging the adjacent Adams Center.

"We'll make sure it's done right, cost effectively, because it's a complicated build. We found that out," Haslam said. "There's a lot that goes into it. There's a lot of utilities that go under there and you're wedging it in there."

UM dug up a section of its Lot W parking area south of the stadium last summer to re-route utility lines in preparation for the larger undertaking this spring.

Complications are somewhat offset by the fact that construction is free to proceed during both summer and academic terms and during athletic seasons without too much interference. Athletes will never be without their resources and may continue to use the current – albeit outdated – facilities within the Adams Center.

"It's not like we're displacing, or it has to be done right before the football season or else they won't have a locker room," Haslam said. "It's not like a stadium expansion where you have to have so many seats available on opening day."

The Champions Center is still expected to be completed in time for the 2017 football season. The Grizzlies open that campaign Sept. 2 at home against Valparaiso.

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