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MU soccer facility taking shape

Jun. 13, 2013 @ 08:46 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Marshall University athletic director Mike Hamrick looked out over the Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex turf Tuesday afternoon and saw part of his Vision Campaign staring back at him.

That vision was not just one for Marshall, but for the entire city of Huntington and state of West Virginia.

"The whole purpose is to build a facility that will be as good as any in the country for Marshall, but at the same time, will be able to host regional and national tournaments for the city," Hamrick said.

Hamrick and Jeff Pratt, Marshall's assistant director of university facilities, walked around the massive complex Tuesday and took in all the work that has been completed.

They stood on the FieldTurf surface with the Marshall logo strewn across the middle of the field. The turf is FIFA 2-Star certified, which is the highest certification from soccer's governing body.

Behind them was a facility that will feature a 1,006-seat grandstand area with spacing for temporary bleachers to be brought in.

Of the 1,006 seats, 350 will be bleacher-back seats available for season-ticket packages, said Aaron Goebbel, Marshall's associate director of athletics for external affairs.

The facility also has 1,300 square-foot locker rooms for the men's team, the women's team and one for visiting teams, as well as a 1,200 square foot press box area for media needs.

"We talked with some of the guys from the construction company and they said they've done facilities before and this will be one of the nicest soccer facilities in the country," Hamrick said. "You are talking about big-time college soccer.

"We've been very proud of our soccer programs over the years, but they've never had locker rooms and offices in one complex. They've never had lounges for their student-athletes. The men's locker room has been the visiting football locker room and the women's team has been over in the Henderson Center. This gives them everything at one complex."

Hamrick announced that prior to the Aug. 23 opener, Marshall will hold a ceremony to announce the name of the field. While he didn't offer any names, he said it will be named for an individual who gave a considerable gift to make the project possible.

As with all large projects, there are difficulties involved, such as the initial phase of this project which included the demolition of Veterans Memorial Field House at Fifth Avenue and 26th Street and starting construction of the complex in January to ensure its completion by August.

Pratt said the company contracted to do the work -- MIRC Construction of Hurricane -- has been relentless in keeping things on time for the opener, which includes an exhibition of Marshall's 2013 men's soccer team against Thundering Herd alumni and the women's soccer team's season opener against Campbell.

"Starting this project in January was probably the hardest thing, but this company has done so well. They've only lost three days (because of weather) since we started," Pratt said. "You just have to stay tight on the schedule. It's a pain to fight the mud, but these guys work in it all day long. They know we've got games coming up and they've been great.

"It's wonderful to see a project that's on time and everyone is excited about it. Everyone with the soccer program has been great and they've told us what they wanted. To be able to put that to paper and see it come to life is wonderful."

While Hamrick wanted to improve Marshall's facilities, the university was not the sole focus for the complex.

Hamrick said he has spoken at length with Len Rogers, the West Virginia Soccer Association president, and Huntington mayor Steve Williams about what the facility could do for the community and the state.

Rogers is responsible for bringing the US Youth Region I Soccer Championships to the Tri-State in 2015 and 2016.

"We made it very clear to the people who go out to bring those events to Huntington that we wanted this to be a community facility," Hamrick said. "Len Rogers told me that event brings $12 to $15 million to the economy. Steve and I were (Marshall football) teammates and are very good friends. He knows what a quality facility will do for his city. You'll see the restaurants and businesses really pick up because this facility is being built."

The interest of the community did not stop there with Hamrick.

Part of the legacy with Veterans Memorial Field House was how it served both Marshall and the community.

Hamrick said everything is being done to preserve that legacy with the new complex and part of that effort is visible today.

Despite the Field House being demolished, the facade of the building with a dedication to veterans was preserved. It reads "Dedicated to those who gave in freedom's cause -- the last full devotion. 1917-18, 1941-45."

Also, Marshall athletics devoted $100,000 to building a playground and a park just outside of the facilities gates that will be called Veterans Memorial Park.

On Tuesday, there were 15 kids on the playground enjoying the new area while Hamrick walked around.

Pratt said the bleachers and windows will be inserted in July and Hamrick said a windscreen will also be placed all around the entire fence of the complex. The scoreboards have been preserved from Sam Hood Field, the former home of Marshall soccer, next to Joan C. Edwards Stadium where an indoor athletic facility will be built.

The Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex represents nearly $8 million of $33 million in new facilities that Marshall is undergoing to improve its athletic facilities.

The $30 million Vision Campaign includes the soccer complex, an indoor practice facility, Hall of Fame, academic support center and sports medicine translational research center. Marshall is also building $3 million worth of suites at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

Money for the project was raised in various ways. A facility surcharge on football and men's basketball tickets raised $10 million while the $3 million suites have been paid for by leases of the suites, which are all sold out.

Marshall has also committed to raising $20 million through private donations and Hamrick said the university is now at 75 percent of that target following a $5 million gift from former Herd athlete Jim Justice, owner of The Greenbrier Resort.

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