The Bluff Road “Proving Grounds,” the Gamecocks’ practice field for decades that was infamous for its sand pits, face-swarming insects and knack for attracting the most heat and humidity that Columbia had to offer, will have its last practice session in October if everything goes according to plan.
USC’s new outdoor fields behind Gamecock Park are under construction and should be ready by mid-season.
“They started the sod (Monday) and it’s five acres of grass. They’ll lay it all down this week,” USC Chief Operating Officer Kevin O’Connell said. “We hope it will be ready in October. It depends now on Mother Nature. We’ve got to have really hot weather and a lot of sunshine.”
The $3 million new fields will mimic the old ones with side-by-side grass gridirons, a coaching tower in the middle, goalposts and lights.
“The goal has been sometime this fall,” O’Connell said. “We made arrangements with the Proving Grounds just to protect ourselves. We knew it was going to depend on construction, and you just never know when it comes to that.”
It’s the first phase of a two-part project at the location. The Gamecocks’ new indoor practice facility will be placed beside it.
The indoor facility is set to open before the 2015 season. The footings are being installed and the steel frame is set to begin going up by mid-September.
“This undertaking of our fieldhouse and our practice fields is long overdue, and we’re moving in that direction to give our football team an opportunity in early October to get onto the new fields,” athletics director Ray Tanner said. “Anything that we do is important in the resources that we’re providing our current student-athletes, and our ability to recruit at the highest level.”
USC leases the Proving Grounds from the adjacent National Guard, with the lease running through the end of the fall.
The new location is twice the distance from the Williams-Brice Stadium locker room. Players currently walk across Bluff Road to the practice fields, a police officer stopping traffic along a busy street, often as rush hour approaches. How will they get to the new fields?
“Our goal is to have trams for them,” O’Connell said. “They’ll load up on the trams and just cross over and go right on over to the practice fields. We haven’t identified the trams or gotten them here but that’s the plan.”
The stadium area will continue to improve. By the start of the 2015 season, the former concrete and asphalt industrial look will have been replaced by green space, a plaza with architecture and an aesthetically pleasing design.
“I’m a proponent of improving facilities and resources for our student-athletes and our coaches,” Tanner said. “And the last two or three years, so much has been done.”
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