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July 24, 2013

Hart discusses Summitt Plaza and other facilities

Expanding the athletic footprint in the area of campus at Stokely Athletics Center, razing Gibbs Hall in order to generate a modernized dwelling for student-athletes and getting an on-campus television studio remain Tennessee's top facilities projects for its athletics department, but the statue paying homage to legendary Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt appears on track to be the next major addition to campus.

The Summitt statue and plaza around Thompson-Boling Arena could be completed by the onset of the 2013-14 basketball seasons, UT Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart recently told VolQuest.com. The Summitt statue will be 7.5 feet and was commissioned to an artist out of Houston.

"The Summitt statue is a part of Tier 1. It's a part of the Lake Loudon beautification project. My hope is that not the statue itself but the project will be complete prior to the start of the first semester," said Hart, who noted the statue itself is expected to be completed well in advance of October. "The Summitt statue, we plan on having everything ready, the plaza ready for the statue by the end of October. I don't know how realistic sitting here today that time fame is. But it's our hope that before we get to the end of October we can have the statue in place.

"You can always hit hurdles with projects of this nature that would bump that timeframe."

Financing, however, isn't on pace to be a hurdle. Perhaps not surprisingly, donors for the Summitt project --- which Hart indicated would be a seven-figure venture when he announced plans in May --- have stepped to the forefront since Hart's announcement.

The timeline for the TV studio, which Hart and Butch Jones have stressed as necessary to come online as quickly as possible following the announcement of the new and expanded SEC/ESPN TV Network, has been established for a desired 2014 completion.

"From our facilities perspective, nothing has changed in terms of priorities. The only thing that we have done different from the last time we have talked is that in taking a look at the tiers because we have taken nothing off the table. Looking at Tier 1 we have the same components in there, volleyball practice facility, men's and women's basketball locker rooms, Stokely footprint. We want to expand the rowing locker room because it just doesn't accommodate to a reasonable level in my mind the number of student athletes who participate in that sport," Hart said. "But the one we have elevated is the studio on the first floor. It's always been in that tier 1 but given the closure now on the SEC Network, all 14 schools are going to have to accelerate their plan relative to some type of studio capability. Our plan is to do a state of the art studio. We will have the opportunity if it unfolds as we envision it to have a very unique environment that our fans as they walk to Neyland, as the walk to Thompson-Boling will be able to look in at the studio from outside the Brenda Lawson Center, Anderson Training Center and see Butch Jones, Cuonzo Martin, Holly Warlick and student athletes being interviewed.

"We are going to have to make and will make a significant commitment to that project. It will be privately funded, but we will also have to and we are already assessing staffing it will take. We are going to produce a 1000 events through the SEC. Obviously, they won't all be live television so each institution will be accountable for that production. That's always been exciting to me. A studio has not always been a part of the master plan. We have accelerated that within those tier 1 projects. … We are going try our best to try and make it happen within that year (2014). Whether or not that's feasible we are still in those conversations with the people who would make that come to fruition."

Hart said Tennessee officials are in discussions to allow it to demolish both Stokely and Gibbs Hall simultaneously, a move that would save costs by eliminating the pair of venerable buildings at the same time. That space has been earmarked for increased practice-field facilities for the Vols' football program and the first new dormitory dwelling for athletes in more than four decades.

"The footprint is for practice fields. What I have proposed to the Chancellor (Jimmy Cheek) are practice fields, a new residence hall and then a parking garage. Really if you think about it the practice fields would be used exclusively by athletics and football. But the residence would be 51-49 (percent) per the NCAA and obviously the parking garage would service all of campus," Hart said. "So when you look at it from a perspective of the three components only one of the three would be utilized almost exclusively by athletics."

While it had been suggested by some that UT's pristine Allan Jones Aquatic Center could be assumed under the University of Tennessee's academic umbrella rather than the costly venue remaining a financial burden on the athletics department's budget, Hart said nothing had been finalized in that regard.

"We haven't had any discussions relative to the aquatic center. I think there is some discussions about the aquatic center from the University's desire to have a new one is where that is stemming from," Hart said. "But there hasn't been any meaningful discussions how or where that would work or what the alternatives are."

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