The signs are subtle, unless you've circled the backside of the University of Montana's campus in a low-riding vehicle in the past month. Construction on the privately funded $14 million Washington-Grizzly Champions Center project has begun.
"It's underway," Montana Athletic Director Kent Haslam said, "and you're aware if you've driven on Campus Drive through the potholes."
Work on a main power line for campus, buried along the outline of Washington-Grizzly Stadium in the university's far northeast corner, was among the initial pieces of the construction groundbreaking of the athletic department's latest jewel. With that taken care of – underground utilities were updated and re-routed in early May – excavation for the actual building can follow soon, Haslam said.
The Champions Center, which 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, will cover 46,000 square feet on the stadium's southwest side. It was designed by Missoula-based CTA Architects.
UM awarded the construction bid to Jackson Contractor Group close to three months ago, the latest project in a long relationship between the two Missoula establishments. Jackson is also in charge of the Missoula College project, currently ongoing just north from the stadium across the Clark Fork River, and also completed recent athletic department projects like the Grizzly Student-Athlete Academic Center and Grizzly Softball Field.
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Along with the necessary utilities update, the second such minor task after the Lot W parking area south of the stadium was dug into last summer to re-route lines under the future building's location, Montana's new scoreboard installation has delayed the more visible portions of construction. The base and frame of a 55-by-32-feet scoreboard are in place with the high-definition LED screen set to go up in the coming days.
Work on the scoreboard, which is being financed by UM's broadcast rights partner Learfield Sports, could not begin until after several events scheduled for Washington-Grizzly Stadium in May. The university's commencement was held inside the stadium on May 14 with Montana's Special Olympics Summer Games ceremonies housed there the following week. State high school lacrosse championships were also contested at the stadium May 22.
"With the timing of the staging for the scoreboard done, I'd imagine you'd see construction fences up here in the next week," Haslam said. "It's on its way."
That's not to say that the project is behind schedule, Haslam assured. He still expects the Champions Center, which was approved by the state Board of Regents in November 2014 and made possible by a $7 million gift from Kevin and Kyle Washington on behalf of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, to be completed in time for the 2017 school year and football season as planned. The Griz open that campaign at home against Valparaiso on Sept. 2, 2017.