Staff Photo: Jason Braverman<br> Eddie Beauchamp, vice president for facilities and operations at Georgia Gwinnett College, right, discusses the master plans for GGC athletics, as Tomas Jimenez, chair of intercollegiate athletics task force, looks on.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- As he looks out over gently sloping land covered predominantly by kudzu, Eddie Beauchamp visualizes what will soon be a $12 million athletic complex.
It takes some imagination to see his perspective. A copy of Georgia Gwinnett College's master plans for intercollegiate athletics doesn't hurt, either.
GGC officials unveiled those designs this week, showcasing what potentially will be one of the most impressive views in Gwinnett County. From the college's Collins Hill Road entrance, the view downhill will capture all of its athletic fields.
"I like the way it's at the front door of our campus," said Beauchamp, a Greater Atlanta Christian grad who serves as GGC's vice president for facilities and operations. "You can see the greenery of the sports fields. You see it driving down the road and everyone wants to know, 'What is that?'"
Construction will begin this summer on the complex, which will include a soccer field circled by a track, baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, a practice field and an athletics building with locker rooms and coaches offices. The estimate for project completion is right at a year, giving ample time before the 2012-13 school year, when GGC begins intercollegiate athletics.
For now, the roughly 30-acre site is nothing but kudzu, trees and power lines, though it eventually will be the centerpiece of a grand entrance onto the campus.
"I think the view is going to be great," said Jay Patel, a GGC senior and Student Government Association president who represented the student body on the athletics task force. "You'll be able to drive by and see the sports fields at the entrance to the college. It will be like Georgia Tech. When you see Bobby Dodd Stadium (by I-85), you know you're at the Georgia Tech campus."
Before GGC made its intercollegiate athletics plans public in April, school officials and an athletics task force spent a great deal of time studying the matter.
The task force was headed up by dean of students Tomas Jimenez, who has worked in the athletic departments at LSU, Virginia, Miami (Fla.) and Northern Arizona. Other GGC staffers in the group were Bill Rogers (in the NAIA Hall of Fame as a tennis coach), Tee Mitchell (who played professional baseball in the Dodgers system) and Laura Maxwell (a former senior associate athletic director/CFO for the Army athletics program).
When the hurdle of raising student fees to pay for athletics was passed, the task force's plans were announced in April. Its plans for the inaugural GGC varsity teams in 2012-13 were men's baseball, men's and women's soccer, men's and women's tennis and women's fastpitch softball. Men's and women's basketball and women's volleyball are being considered for the 2013-14 school year.
They considered a number of factors when choosing those sports, including local popularity, cost and where they fit into the Southern States Athletic Conference, GGC's ideal destination if it is approved as an NAIA school. The school's NAIA application is due in October.
Before that takes place, GGC hopes to have an athletic director hired by August. That person will be responsible for quickly hiring coaches and ordering athletic gear.
The Grizzlies' coaches then have to start recruiting in a tight time frame to fill out the rosters for the inaugural teams. Given the large population of successful high school athletes in Gwinnett, a heavy portion of the recruiting efforts will happen locally.
"It's so competitive here in Gwinnett County, I don't know if you have to leave the county to build a strong (college) athletic program," said Beauchamp, whose son is a pitcher for Brookwood's baseball team. "We're very fortunate to be in that situation here, with great high school athletics and academics."
"You couldn't pick a better location to start a college athletic program," Jimenez added.
Finishing the work
Transforming the kudzu-heavy land along Collins Hill Road won't be an easy project, but it could be worse. The topography is conducive to the plans, so very little moving of land will be necessary.
That said, any construction project can suffer its delays and potentially prevent the fields from being ready in August 2012. If that happens, Beauchamp said he's confident that GGC's teams could use some of Gwinnett's pristine high school fields until the campus project is completed.
One sports field at GGC is ready, though. A new intramural field the size of two soccer fields, equipped with lights and a baseball backstop, will soon be used by students. It could be used for intercollegiate practices if needed.
The intramural land, close to the campus' dorms, will be joined by the intercollegiate complex, which begins with the soccer and track facility that bumps up to the campus entrance. Below that will be the baseball field (with an outfield berm similar to the Gwinnett Braves' Coolray Field), with the athletics building sandwiched between that and the softball field. The tennis courts will run alongside the softball field and practice field. A three- to four-month process of moving cutouts of the athletic fields to different places on and off campus finally resulted in the current plan.
An on-campus gym is in the long-term plans, though that desired 100,000-square foot facility likely would cost in the $30 million to $40 million range. The facility is necessary for the start-up basketball and volleyball programs in 2013-14.
"We really feel this will allow us to start with the core sports that we want to start with," said Beauchamp, who said there are no plans for the school to add football. "As we move forward, we'll look into basketball and either find a place to play, or eventually building our own place to play. We talked about The Forum at (Greater Atlanta Christian), that would be perfect. We felt pretty comfortable that we could find a place to play basketball locally."
Benefits of athletics
GGC officials see numerous benefits in adding intercollegiate athletics, maybe the most important being its role in marketing the school.
College sporting events will draw many more visitors than usual to the campus, and it will become a valuable recruiting tool for a more well-rounded college experience. It will make it more of a destination college, giving students a reason to stay on campus. Last semester, GGC had nearly 600 students living on campus (out of 1,000 available beds).
"We felt like this was the best time to start athletics," Beauchamp said. "It's what students expect, in my opinion. It's just what completes a college campus. We do an outstanding job on the academic side. Last year we introduced housing so we became a residential campus. We think we're progressing with what we've been working toward the past five years."
As the intercollegiate sports begin, GGC expects to make a bigger stamp on the community. Grizzlies shirts, hats and other apparel likely will appear more regularly throughout Gwinnett, as well as on campus.
Patel, a Peachtree Ridge grad who is bound for graduate school at Tulane, said his fellow students have embraced the idea of intercollegiate athletics, despite the fees that came with it.
Though he's leaving home for grad school, he can't wait to come back for GGC sporting events.
"For students, they need a sense of school pride and this gives them that school pride," Patel said. "It will keep the students on campus more and give them something they can look forward to doing. ... It's not like we have a long history of things going on here on campus. This is one thing that will really bring people onto our campus. It gives us exposure and recruits students to our school."