University of Tennessee at Knoxville swim coaches hope the under-construction Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center – which is named for the Cleveland businessman - is able to draw some recruits capable of producing swift times.
But during a recent media preview tour, the finishing time most on their minds was the completion of the facility.
However, Keith Buckner, site superintendent for Blaine Construction Company of Knoxville, assured them that 110 workers are to labor feverishly over the next few months to complete the work by Dec. 24.
“We’re having Thanksgiving turkey here,” he quipped.
To that, Lady Vols assistant Jen Arndt offered to help bring the food.
Officials hope the $24.3 million facility – of which Check Into Cash entrepreneur Jones donated $4 million – does bring a few championships.
“It is the best in the world,” said excited men’s coach John Trembley, who said that dreams for a new pool to replace the 40-year-old Student Aquatic Center and Ray Bussard Intercollegiate Pool go back 14 years. “A lot of people might dispute that, but we will stand by it.”
Added Lady Vol head coach Matt Kredich, “The building represents a commitment on the part of the university to do things in a first-rate, first-class manner.”
The construction of the swim center is the latest example of how UT has often found financial support from Chattanooga area citizens when constructing athletic facilities or additions in recent years. Chattanooga businessman John Thornton several years ago donated money to help build the Thornton Athletics Student Life Center, an expansive facility next to Tom Black Track offering academic and tutorial support to student-athletes.
Within the center is the Lyle Finley Study Area, named for the former Golden Gallon executive.
In 2004, the McKenzie-Lawson Athletic Center – named for Cleveland area businessman Toby McKenzie and his former wife, Brenda Lawson - opened. Despite not having a college education, Mr. McKenzie has made millions in such business ventures as rent to own, check advancing and real estate.
Ms. Lawson will also have her name on the women’s section of the under-construction UT basketball practice facility across Lake Loudon Boulevard.
The McKeznie-Lawson Athletic Center was an expansion to the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center – which includes an indoor football practice field named for Chattanooga businessman Robert E. White.
Concerning the new pool facility, UT executive associate athletics director Gary Wyant, whom Trembley said deserves much credit, said that UT officials studied and visited a number of top collegiate pools in the country – including those of Texas A&M, Houston, Minnesota, IUPUI (in Indianapolis), Georgia and Auburn.
They also sought the advice of architects HNTB of Kansas City and Lindsay and Maples of Knoxville.
“We are taking the best from them and we added a few things nobody else has,” said Mr. Wyant, who was a football assistant coach under Bill Battle from 1971-75.
Among the unique features, he said, is a massive scoreboard on the east wall with three different screens for video or race information. The three screens can also be converted into one screen when needed.
Also singular to the UT pool, Mr. Wyant said, are an elevated timing booth and press area above the finish line of the 50-meter competition pool, and an unusual screen that will cover the stairways to the diving towers. The latter can be lighted and should offer dramatic effect, because a diver will not be seen until he or she reaches the platform.
Other amenities in the facility – which looks more massive from the inside than the outside – are a spacious deck area, an1,800-seat grandstand that includes its own air conditioning unit, VIP seating overlooking the competition pool, and multi-purpose team rooms for both the men and women.
Coaches’ offices, a training room, an elevated diving judges’ box, two large tubs, photograph and memorabilia display areas, and underwater stairwells in the diving pool are also to be included.
Mr. Wyant said that the diving pool has extremely thick support walls to hold the massive amount of water. “If there is anywhere in the world you would be safe during a nuclear attack, it is the diving pool,” he joked.
According to diving coach Dave Parrington, the former facility’s diving pool barely met collegiate depth requirements.
The competition pool will have a depth of more than eight feet, making it swift, officials said.
Coach Trembley added that the former facility – which was one of the best in the country when built - was fine for training, but the more shallow depths of both pools had been inadequate for today’s standards during competition.
The new facility is scheduled to open on Jan. 4 with a meet against Georgia Tech and is to be officially dedicated on Jan. 12.
The Jones complex will be used only by the UT team or for competitive swimming events. The old Student Aquatic Center will be available for use by all UT students and employees, officials added.
Although the new facility is being built with the help of a Chattanooga area businessman, the UT men’s swimming program itself was built with the help of a former Chattanoogan. Ray Bussard, the successful former UT swim coach, had been a coach and teacher at City High and Red Bank High before going to UT.
Also, current UT assistant men’s swim coach Joe Hendee, who has been on the UT staff since 1985, is a Notre Dame High graduate.
Under-construction Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center
- Photo2 by John Shearer