COLUMBIA — For years, Missouri’s gymnastics team has practiced in a screened-off section of Hearnes Center Fieldhouse, hardly an ideal setting.
Because it's on top of the impact-absorbing track surface, the floor
mat has less spring beneath it than the mat the team competes on in Hearnes Center arena. While other elite programs have foam landing pits to lessen the wear and tear on their gymnasts, Missouri has made do with mats that aren’t as cushioning. Coach Rob Drass said both of these things make the practice space less desirable.
Drass has wanted a new practice facility since he arrived at MU 10 years ago. But money has always stood in the way.
“Unless a booster steps forward and has some money available and needs to get rid of it, which I’m not sure is going to happen at this time, it’s probably on hold for a few years,” Drass said in January.
In July, the timetable changed. A donation spurred the planning of a new facility that Drass and Associate Athletics Director Mark Alnutt hope will be completed by fall 2010.
The gymnastics team and the spirit group Golden Girls will share the facility, which is expected to cost a little more than $3 million, Alnutt said. Alnutt would not disclose the amount of the donation, but he said it was “enough to help us move forward with this project without having to borrow money to cover the cost.”
Plans for the facility are in the early stages of design, but Alnutt said Missouri hopes to send out bid documents for the project in mid-December.
The athletics department is working with MU Campus Facilities and Kansas City architectural firm Ellerbe Becket — the architect of Kansas City’s Sprint Center — to plan the facility. No contract has been signed yet with Ellerbe Becket..
The site has not been determined, but options being discussed include the Amphitheater at Mizzou, located just south of Memorial Stadium; an area farther south of Memorial Stadium, where athletics parking Lot G and a maintenance shed are located; and athletics parking Lot K south of Hearnes Center.
The amphitheater site was discussed first, but Alnutt said the athletics department must consider a possible future expansion of Memorial Stadium if that site is chosen.
Alnutt said the facility will include a practice floor, dance studio, locker rooms, multimedia lounge, satellite training room and possibly a small workout area. The gymnastics team will use the facility solely for practice and will continue holding competitions in Hearnes Center. Alnutt said the athletics department hopes to open the facility before Missouri’s first football game next year so the Golden Girls can use it for the season.
Drass said he has been talking with Athletics Director Mike Alden about building a new facility since June 1999.
“I think he’s heard from me more times than he wants to tell you that we need a new facility,” Drass said.
Missouri gymnastics has enjoyed success since Drass’ arrival, advancing to the NCAA regionals in nine of his 10 seasons. But the lack of a top-notch, or even adequate, facility has prevented Missouri from landing some top recruits.
“It (the current facility) hurt our ability to recruit that
high-ability athlete,” Drass said. “It’s (the new facility) going to
make recruiting so much easier.”