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UK football on the way to 'one-stop shop' with planned $45M practice facility

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More than two months ago, Mitch Barnhart stepped to the podium at the unveiling of plans for a $110-million renovation of Commonwealth Stadium.

He talked about the project would "change the personality" of UK football's long-time home, how the more intimate surroundings would positively affect fans and players alike. Barnhart was mindful that the day was a celebration of the hard work of many, but insistent at the same time how much work was ahead.

In no uncertain terms, he spelled out his goal to compete at the highest level in the Southeastern Conference under Mark Stoops.

"The transformation of Commonwealth Stadium is the first step in that process," Barnhart said of the stadium plans in November, "but it's not our last."

On Friday, the UK athletics director unveiled the next one.

Plans for a privately funded $45-million practice facility were approved by the Board of Trustees, setting into motion a process that will move UK's entire football operation.

"One-stop shop for all of our kids," Barnhart said. "So now they'll be able to academically do their work. They'll be able to train. They'll be able to get most of their food over there."

The two-story structure will be located at the east end of the Nutter Field House, with two practice fields and an adjoining drill area also a part of the project. When finished in 2016, administrative offices, locker spaces, team meeting areas, training areas, high performance and weight room spaces, equipment rooms, a hydrotherapy room, player locker rooms, lounge facilities, an academic lounge/study area, and an entrance lobby with enhanced visitor amenities will be housed there.

"All that gives us a better ability to take care and make sure we've got a really good understanding of what our kids are doing in all facets of their lives," Barnhart said.

The practice facility upgrades were in initial plans for Commonwealth renovations, but it was ultimately decided the projects would have to be separated. Now that the stadium renovation is in the beginning stages of construction, that fact is even cleared.

"There's no possible way you could've done both projects with one scope of money," Barnhart said. "You couldn't have done it."

Per university rules, no project of this size can brought to the board without at least half of the funding necessary to complete it secured. Barnhart didn't go into detail, but he did say UK is past that 50-percent threshold and "well on our way to getting the rest of it done."

There are still decisions to be made as the project moves forward, including exactly how the existing Nutter Field House will be affected and whether to change the playing surface in Commonwealth to turf.

"Our goal is to immediately get to design," Barnhart said. "We've got some pretty good thoughts about what we want to do. It's not without thought -- we've been doing this, thinking about what it would look like -- and we've seen other buildings, other places."

As football gets an upgrade, so too will other UK programs that will take advantage of open space in the Nutter Training Center.

"It's really important to keep that for our other sports," Barnhart said. "And then track and field and gymnastics will probably move into that facility in addition to some other things probably because that is closer to where they live."

Next on Barnhart's radar are facilities for the baseball and men's and women's tennis programs.

"The two things we have left to address -- really important -- is obviously our baseball stadium and our indoor tennis," Barnhart said. "Those are two that are hanging out that we have got to get fixed in order to have them be respectable in this league."

But at least for a little while, Barnhart wants to enjoy the accomplishment that is getting approval for the football practice facility. The news comes on the heels of the beginning of the Commonwealth project and just days before the best recruiting class in school history becomes official on Signing Day next week.

Combine all those things with the fact that alumni Jacob Tamme, Danny Trevathan and Wesley Woodyard are all set to play for the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl on Sunday and it's a special week  for UK football.

"I hope they have a championship ring," Barnhart said. "That's what they've worked their whole lives to get to is those kind of moments, and they're all deserving guys. They've been unbelievable representatives of this program. And so to have that, and with what's going on with Mark and his staff, and to have the facility up and running, it's a very exciting time for our program."

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