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Pear, facilities staff laying the bricks for UK's future foundation

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Updated photo gallery of UK's facility progress

Russ Pear needs a clone. At the very least, he could use another two or three hours in a day.

Pear, senior associate athletics director for facilities and operations at Kentucky, unofficially owns the title as the busiest man in the UK Athletics Department this summer. Pear and Scott Clark, as the two officials heading UK's numerous facility projects this summer, haven't had much time to enjoy the offseason.

"The schedule has been really hectic," Pear said. "Every year Scott Clark and I say, 'If we can just get through this year, there is no way it can be this busy next year.' "

But few - if any - summers have been as busy as this one for Pear and Clark as they march through the heart of their most important season to date.

In an ongoing effort to upgrade and renovate UK's facility infrastructure, Pear and Clark are leading five major facility projects this summer, in addition to planning for future developments and maintaining the current foundation.

The five projects include:

  • The installation of two Daktronics high definition video boards, light-emitting diode ribbon boards and a new sound system at Commonwealth Stadium
  • A brand new $12 million track facility 
  • A new playing surface at the UK Soccer Complex
  • An interior renovation of the Shively Training Facility

The new video and audio system being installed at Commonwealth Stadium has been covered in detail. Demolition of the old displays is already underway, and the installation of the new displays, along with the ribbon boards and sound system, will begin in early August.

The Commonwealth Stadium upgrades, which will include new sod, are expected to be ready for the home opener against Central Michigan on Sept. 10.

With the addition of the video and sound system, which is expected to cost close to $6 million (demolition and installation included), UK Athletics has invested more than $14 million in renovations and upgrades to football facilities at Commonwealth Stadium, Nutter Training Center and Nutter Field House over the last six years.

Last year, Pear and his crew renovated the Nutter Training Facility, revamping the football team's weight room, locker room and meeting rooms. Where folding chairs used to sit in small rooms, expanded meeting rooms, similar to miniature theaters, have been refurbished.

"When you've got six or eight offensive linemen in a room that's smaller than this office, it's just not very functional," Pear said of the previous meeting rooms.

Also, a main meeting room, equipped with projection screens and "smart" technology, has replaced old racquetball courts in Nutter. The room can be used for team-wide film sessions, presentations or recruiting purposes.

Even if the upgrades aren't just a case of keeping up with the Joneses of the Southeastern Conference, the additions were imperative for a program that's trying to rise in the nation's strongest league.

"I don't see us engaging as much in the arms race as much as I see us getting things functional and up to date for today's athletes," Pear said. "That doesn't mean we weren't paying attention before, but if someone builds one for $2 million, that doesn't mean you go build one for $3 million."
 
One might raise an eyebrow at the upgrades to football if they were the only additions going on, but Pear has had his hands full with plenty of other sports and facilities.
 
The front facing of one of the two old scoreboards at Commonwealth Stadium is nearly complete. The installation of the new Daktronics video boards is expected to start in early August. (photo by Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) The front facing of one of the two old scoreboards at Commonwealth Stadium is nearly complete. The installation of the new Daktronics video boards is expected to start in early August. (photo by Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
"We know what keeps the overall ship afloat, but every sport is important," Pear said. "Mitch (Barnhart) started that attitude from an overall operations standpoint. We place just as much importance in our softball program, our baseball program and our gymnastics program, just like we do with our football program." 

Case in point: Pear's biggest project this summer is the $12 million track facility being constructed between the old Shively Track and baseball's Cliff Hagan Stadium. As Pear termed it, it's a "complete redo" of the facility.

Nothing more than a smoothed dirt field at the moment, the new track facility is expected to be operational for the spring 2012 season. Without an outdoor track facility for the next few months, the track and field and cross country teams will use the Nutter Field House as its practice facility. Other designated areas around UK's campus will be set up for track and field's throwers.

The construction is an inconvenience for the teams during the building process, but the previous facility was bordering on unusable. Last year, Barnhart tabbed the existing track's conditions as "unacceptable."

"We've basically had a track that's been non-functional from a collegiate competitive standpoint," Pear said.

Pear is hopeful the foundation of the actual track will be completed before winter arrives, allowing the team a means of outdoor practice while the stadium seating, concourse and other structures are built around it.

The hope is to host six to eight collegiate and high school meets a year, including the Southeastern Conference Championships and the state high school track meet, but no events have been scheduled for the 2012 spring season as a precaution for potential construction delays. 

"It brings people to campus both from a competitive standpoint for recruiting but also just to our campus," Pear said of the advantage of a new track. "A lot of the things we've done over the years with state high school tournaments, there are probably only a select few that may be SEC-caliber athletes, but the bottom line is you get people on campus who say this is a nice place and they want to come to school at the University of Kentucky."

Just down the street, Pear and his crew are about to embark on a $950,000 interior facelift of the Shively Training Facility,  which houses the locker rooms and weight room of several Olympic sports, including the baseball and men's and women's track and field teams.

Pear said the bare basics of the facility - the heating, the ventilation and the structure - are still in good shape, but the complex is in need of some updates. Beginning in about a week, new drywall, new ceilings, new floors - the "whole bit," as Pear described it - will be laid at Shively, specifically in the locker rooms of each team.

By the completion of the project, which should end in November, the goal is to give Shively the look and feel of a modern facility.

"The hallways, we're going to transform those so that when you walk in to Shively, you don't know if you're walking into the Craft Center or into Shively Sports Center," Pear said.

The new field at UK Soccer Complex is perhaps the smallest project that Pear and his crew are managing this summer, but right now it's the most critical to get finished in preparation for the Aug. 23 women's soccer home opener. A construction crew dug up the old field months ago, but a freak weather year has delayed the crew from laying the new sod.

"It's been one of those crazy years for weather," Pear said. "It wasn't like we had rain for two weeks straight, but we would get rain for two days straight and it would be so wet that you'd have to wait. By the time you were about to get back on it, it would rain again. We're just at a critical point right now at trying to be ready for the first game."

Pear said the renovation of the field isn't just new sod. Old drains are being repaired and the base of the field is being reconstructed. Because of the draining problems of the old soil, the new soccer field will be a sand-capped surface with moisture sensors in the field that will allow the Sports Turf department the ability to monitor soil moisture levels and reduce overwatering. Six inches of sand will sit on top of the base of the soil and then Bermuda grass will grow on top of that.

Other minor renovations will be made to the UK Soccer Complex in addition to a permanent tower to shoot film.

Of course, with all these projects going on, many might ask when a new baseball stadium might come or what the update is on a new basketball arena. The city of Lexington is currently studying the feasibility of redesigning and renovating Rupp Arena and the Lexington Center.

Future projects that are on the docket include moving the fences back at the UK Softball Complex and the addition of a new video/scoreboard. Pear also said men's tennis coach Dennis Emery is working hard to get some supporters to the table to fundraise an expansion at Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex. That renovation, which is still in the planning stages, would include an expansion of four courts to six courts in the indoor facility, plus updated locker rooms.

Pear has a giant board in his office to organize the numerous projects going on and to help him look to the future. Prioritizing what needs to be done for an aging infrastructure can be a difficult job, but Pear said they have to look at UK's facilities situation as a need-to-need basis.

"We've gone around and looked at everything and said, 'That would be nice, but that's not exactly what we need. What we need is this,' " Pear said. "Mitch has made it a priority now to make sure that when he retires, that part of the department is in good shape to where another AD won't have to worry about it."

Fundraising, of course, also factors into prioritizing the facilities projects, as does the year-to-year fiscal budget. The list can change on a frequent basis, and capital dollars must also be allocated to Kentucky's normal facility operations, like painting and sprucing up UK's current facilities.

"You want a plan of the things we're looking at down the road and try to attack those in order of whatever priority you set them in," Pear said. "Sometimes the priority changes because of certain circumstances. If a donor comes forward and says, 'I'd like to do this and here's what I'd like to do,' you need to listen. Unless we're going to get in a capital campaign, this is how we have to do these things." 

It's made for one busy summer for Pear and his crew.

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