When Illinois State athletic officials started the second phase of their long-term planning four years ago and took a comprehensive look at the facilities, there was little doubt what was at the top of the list.
“The cornerstone was the need for an indoor practice facility,” said Larry Lyons, who is in his 31st year at ISU and his fifth as athletic director. “Horton Field House is a wonderful old barn and has served athletics and the campus very well. But now we can’t use it for all the practices we need to use it for.
“It doesn’t fit the needs and the time blocks we need to fit all of our practices in for about six months of the year. We looked at the functionality of Horton and said we need to address that. That led us to an indoor multipurpose practice facility. About half the schools in the Missouri Valley Football Conference have either a dome facility or a self-standing practice facility.”
ISU football coach Brock Spack recently said such a facility is a must.
“An indoor facility has to happen to take another step from a facility standpoint,” he added. “Once we get a facility built here, I think it’s a game-changer for all of our athletics, not just football.”
At what kind of price tag?
“If we had a $25 million building we would be in really, really good shape,” Lyons continued. “But it could obviously be scaled down according to what we put in there. It doesn’t need to be this grandiose building. It needs to be a practice facility.
“If we can find the funds to have a 300-meter track, which would certainly help our track program, with the appropriate long jump, triple jump, pole vault areas and eight running lanes on the sprint side that would be perfect. A 300-meter track almost fits perfectly with 100 yards of artificial surface, including both end zones.
“What that does is give you 100 yards of surface, which is perfect for football training, but also is good for soccer, baseball, softball and conditioning for other sports. And with the right netting systems, you could have multiple teams practicing at the same time, which is very tough to do in Horton.”
“The practice facility, much like Hancock, could become a community asset where we could schedule other events there too," he added.
Lyons admitted the athletic department likely will have to fund the majority of the project through donors.
“The facility is No. 1 on our wish list, and it’s what we lead with when talking with donors as part of the campus (fundraising) campaign,” added Lyons. “We’re probably going to have to fund the majority of this building because it’s not our turn on campus to use many resources."
“There are other priorities on campus and we understand that, so we’re probably going to have to do the majority of this privately. We are trying to find those individuals or corporations, who might be interested in helping us do that. It’s not an easy thing to do, but we’re trying to find that anchor, that lead gift, that will give us the momentum to really push forward.”
Is it harder to secure donations from the private sector?
“I think so,” said Lyons. “There are tax changes coming. Business is harder than it used to be. Philanthropy from the corporations is still out there, but they're being asked by literally everyone to participate. It’s going to take the right person or corporation to (believe) in what we are trying to do to get this done, at least to give us that anchor, but we’re going to keep pushing until we find that person.”
Lyons said school officials are looking at the current grass football practice field north of Horton as the proposed site. He also offered that there was discussion about re-designing or re-configuring Horton, but that isn’t feasible or structurally possible.
“We will still use Horton for some things,” he added. “Horton Field House isn’t going anywhere.”
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