May 27, 2024

The Bulldogs have made it to the College Football Playoff four times in the last seven seasons, clinching consecutive national championships in 2021 and 2022. During this period, the University of Georgia invested an impressive $80 million in constructing a state-of-the-art football center befitting a dominant college football program.

Under the guidance of the design and architecture firm HOK, the renovation and expansion of Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, totaling 29,000 square feet and 136,000 square feet respectively, have turned it into a comprehensive facility catering to the needs of the top college football talents, as explained by HOK Director of Sports, Recreation, and Entertainment Trevor Bechtold to Business Insider.

Explore the facility, which boasts an upgraded locker room, players lounge, and weight room. Additionally, it offers unique features like a “sports bar” and demo kitchen, an in-house barbershop, and a sports medicine facility equipped with hydrotherapy, sensory deprivation, cryotherapy, and more.

College football facilities are commonly structured across two levels. However, at the University of Georgia, existing elements in and around Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall posed a challenge for HOK architects. To address the constraints of the relatively confined site, the design team opted for a vertical construction approach instead of a horizontal one. Despite inherent challenges, this decision offered both challenges and opportunities, allowing the creation of a building with greater efficiency compared to other facilities. The designers expanded to three stories, surpassing the typical two-story structure of such buildings. The decision to incorporate a third level was driven by the need to accommodate everything, ultimately proving to be a successful solution.

 

Upon entering the facility, recruits, players, coaches, and staff are welcomed by an expansive staircase bordered by a display of trophies, serving as a constant reminder of the program’s recent achievements. Bechtold characterized this space as a “central spine,” seamlessly linking all the offerings within the headquarters. The majority of player facilities are situated on the first and second floors, with the third floor housing the coaches’ offices. The ease of movement from one area to another is emphasized, with Bechtold emphasizing the importance of “circulation” in such spaces. He pointed out that unlike typical buildings where horizontal movement is common, here, vertical movement facilitates easy connections with every aspect of the facility.

A short distance into the building, you’ll find a comfortable player’s lounge with expansive views of the facility’s most crucial, and arguably most impressive, areas. According to Bechtold, stepping into this lounge immediately exposes you to a space that offers visibility into the weight room, sports medicine area, meeting rooms, offices, and locker room—all conveniently located. Bechtold describes the lounge as the headquarters’ “wow factor,” creating an impactful impression for both recruits and active players. It’s no wonder the space and its surroundings are affectionately referred to as “the 360 Degrees of Wow.”

Many similar programs provide large cafeteria-style dining halls for players, coaches, and staff, but due to limited space in Georgia, HOK and the university had to think outside the box when it came to the team’s dining options. The solution was the creation of “Bones Cafe,” a space designed to emulate a sports bar or casual restaurant, offering food throughout the day. According to Bechtold, this innovation has proven to be a “huge success” for the Bulldogs, as the relaxed atmosphere attracts everyone from players to coaches to support staff.

“The casual setting brings everyone together, and the relaxed environment allows for more enjoyable experiences,” Bechtold remarked. “It provides a sense of relief, fostering open conversations between players, coaches, and staff, whether it’s with their trainer, coach, or the staff psychologist who might be present.”

Certainly, players are provided with ready-made meals and snacks throughout the day, available at both Bones Cafe and a nearby grab-and-go nutrition bar. However, for those interested in acquiring culinary skills and preparing their own meals, the program enlisted HOK to incorporate a demonstration kitchen into Bones Cafe. According to Bechtold, the on-site dietitian advocated strongly for the inclusion of a teaching kitchen. The program’s emphasis is on ensuring that players don’t have a diminished experience after leaving college. They aim to teach them how to independently create the meals they’ve been enjoying so that they possess the necessary skills once they move on from the program.

A significant portion of the redesigned Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall is dedicated to the treatment and recovery of injuries. Through a collaboration with Piedmont Hospital, one of Georgia’s largest healthcare groups, the football program can provide comprehensive medical care on-site. The sports medicine area features hydrotherapy pools, X-ray and MRI machines, sensory deprivation and cryotherapy chambers, as well as tools for long-term concussion recovery. Bechtold emphasized the growing importance of these facilities for student athletes and their parents, highlighting that having a local hospital integrated into their building offers reassurance regarding the enhanced quality of care compared to other alternatives.

The renovation of the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall aimed to go beyond just serving as a football facility. According to Bechtold’s statement to BI, the goal was to create a comprehensive facility that could cater to all the needs of the athletes. They wanted it to be a centralized hub where players could access everything they require throughout the day without having to move around to various locations and save that additional time. As a result, the football headquarters provides distinctive amenities, including a barbershop conveniently located next to the locker room for players to get a quick haircut.

The recently constructed all-team auditorium at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall boasts a size almost double that of the Bulldogs’ previous room, providing ample space for team meetings, film sessions, and various activities. Notably, the side walls are adorned with neon numbers representing the years of Georgia’s division and conference championships, while the back wall showcases the years when the Bulldogs secured national titles. The predominant color scheme in the design leans heavily towards black and gray, with a deliberate choice to minimize the presence of red.

Bechtold explained the intentional design choice, stating, “Every space is unique; every design is really catered to that culture and that environment and that local group of people.” He pointed out that while Georgia generally incorporates red into their color palette, the team room and other spaces within the facility lean more towards grays and blacks. This deliberate decision allows the team’s iconic red to be brought into the visual narrative, especially since the team members are consistently clad in red gear.

The vertical design of the facility posed a significant challenge, particularly in accommodating a sufficiently spacious weight room without causing disruptions to the rest of the headquarters. Weight rooms are known for their noise, and it was crucial to prevent sound and vibrations from transferring throughout the building and causing inconvenience for everyone, according to Bechtold. Despite the preference to avoid placing weight rooms on upper floors, the team had to integrate Georgia’s weight room into the higher levels of the center. To address this issue, HOK strategically positioned an equipment room directly beneath the weight room, essentially creating a “bunker.” Bechtold explained that this setup allowed them to isolate the weight room and its structure from the rest of the building, ensuring the success of the overall design while having a weight room situated at the core of the facility, which was a unique aspect of the building.

The weight room’s distinctive “up and down” layout not only sets it apart from other facilities but also serves a practical purpose. School officials requested HOK to incorporate plyometric stairs resembling those in Sanford Stadium, running from ground level to both floors of the weight room. This design advantageously aligns with football teams running the stairs before workouts, allowing the coach to address the team before they move into the space for their routine.

Positioned between indoor and outdoor practice fields, the weight room provides players with views of both areas during their workouts. Additionally, coaches and staff offices overlook the expansive space, facilitating supervision during training sessions. The central video board, akin to those in sports arenas, serves multiple functions, including displaying leaderboards, ESPN content, recruiting videos, workouts, and hype videos, enhancing the overall vibrancy of the building.

For post-exercise recovery, the cold plunge pool offers an elevated alternative to a backyard ice bath, reducing inflammation and soreness. The hot plunge pool provides additional benefits by relieving the cold water’s sting, with research suggesting that the alternating temperatures promote blood circulation throughout the body and aid in recovery.

Each 40-inch-wide locker comes equipped with charging ports, outlets, and a leather-clad lounge chair. Above each locker, a TV displays the player’s photo, name, and number, covering a storage area for pads that automatically dries equipment. Hidden storage behind the backs and under the seats of each chair, along with pull-out cabinets flanking each locker, provides designated space for shoes, cleats, clothing, backpacks, and other items. The locker room also features a lounge area with three massive TVs and comfortable sectionals, providing players with an additional space to relax and socialize.

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