Wednesday October 17, 2012 New gymnastics studio a hit at topping premier
Updated: 10:09am, October 18
Updated: 10:09am, October 18
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In her 10 seasons as Florida’s gymnastics coach, Rhonda Faehn has ushered dozens of recruits through the O’Connell Center, and when questions arose about the Gators’ out-dated facility -- a far cry from studios at the likes of Alabama or Utah or Georgia or other NCAA powerhouses -- the best she could do was cite promises for the future and blueprints somewhere on a drawing board.
This fall, however, a concept has turned to concrete.
“Walking through it and seeing how everything is coming together ... it gave us chills,” Faehn said.
That, of course, would be the $4.3 million gymnastics studio renovation project, which held its ceremonial “topping out” event Wednesday, much to the delight of 200 or so on hand -- many from Brasfield & Gorrie General Contractors -- for the commemorative luncheon.
"It's amazing," senior Randy Stageberg said. "We'd heard so much about it from our coaches, but seeing it for the first time? It's going to be incredible."
The project was made possible with the help of a series of donors that helped fund nearly half the cost, according to Phil Pharr, new executive director of Gator Boosters, Inc.
“The people who are contributing to this are doing it because they’ve seen the need, seen the benefit and want to help the Gator athletic program, in general,” Pharr said. “It’s not a football thing or a basketball thing, it’s a Gator thing.”
Kirsten and Scott Rowe were among those contributors. Their 8-year-old daughter is involved in competitive gymnastics.
"We know how important University of Florida athletics are," she said. "And we feel particularly strong about gymnastics and the work and discipline that goes into it."
There will be lots of both in the new UF studio, which is extended from the O’Dome’s north side, marking the first time in the building’s 31-year history that a structural wall has been knocked down.
On the other side of that missing wall, will be 18,500 square feet of gymnastics paradise, including expanded stations for the vault, beam, bars and floor events; a designated training room, massage room and nutrition bar; a lobby with trophy case, graphics and seating; high-definition video recorders and monitors at each station; and an observation deck for recruits, parents and visitors to watch the athletes train.
“We were really taken care of at the O’Dome for so many years -- but this is state of the art, top of the line, best of the best of everything,” said Faehn, who last season led the Gators to a No. 2 finish at the NCAA Championships. “I’ve told our recruits and their families that this is a statement to the commitment the University of Florida has made to gymnastics.”
In Faehn’s last six seasons, the Gators have finished either first or second in the Southeastern Conference meet five times (with the other being a third place). In 2012, UF went 17-1 during the regular season, captured the conference title, regional title and at the NCAA Championships finished second to rival Alabama by a mere 0.075th of a point.
And that was working with antiquated resources.
“No question we were behind the times and this was a facility we needed,” said UF athletic director Jeremy Foley (pictured below with UAA administrators touring construction site. “But the beauty of it all is that Rhonda has built an outstanding program -- and that’s an understatement -- without banging on the door and saying, ‘I can’t do it without a new place!’ She and her staff just went to work.”
Foley and his staff went to work too, announcing in February plans for the renovation.
“We heard how nice it was going to be, so we just figured it was going to take like two years to build,” said senior Marissa King (pictured at top with Stageberg).
So Faehn and the Gators just went about their business.
Last season, UF had six athletes garner All-America honors, including freshman Kytra Hunter, who captured the NCAA all-around and vault individual championships -- becoming just the ninth freshman in the event’s history to capture the all-around -- and then was named Honda Award winner as the nation’s top collegiate gymnast.
“I think it’s a testament to Rhonda, her staff, her recruiting and that type of athletes she’s brought in that we have been as success as we have been with our facility,” senior associate athletic director Lynda Tealer said. “I don’t know if it’s going to make a difference in terms of national championships, but what I do know is that those kids are going to get better training, they’re going to use their time better and the coaches are going to have better information and resources made available to them.”
In June, Faehn agreed to contract extension through the 2017 season.
The studio is on schedule to be completed Dec. 14, with the first regular-season meet scheduled for Jan. 4 against Ball State.
“I told them this is going to be one of their best Christmas presents ever,” Faehn said. "And then we'll get right to work."