UI's Illinois, Eichelberger fields could see upgrades

UI's Illinois, Eichelberger fields could see upgrades

CHAMPAIGN — Facility upgrades at Illinois Field were a persistent topic of conversation this spring as Dan Hartleb's Illini jumped back into the Top 25 in March and the top quarter of the Big Ten by the end of the season.

A complete teardown and a new baseball stadium isn't in Illinois' future plans, but upgrades could be coming to both Illinois and Eichelberger fields with the addition of training facilities for the baseball and softball teams.

Cost remains the last stumbling block to two more additions to the Illini's steadily changing facilities landscape.

"Would I like to come in and build a brand new stadium for baseball? Obviously, I would," Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said. "It's a question of resources. We understand that coming in and bulldozing that stadium and starting something over is going, at this point, to be a $30-40 million project.

"We think that the better approach is to focus on player development and, over time as we have resources and opportunity, come in and make incremental improvements to the facility in both baseball and softball."

Those future plans might include chairback seats, enhanced concessions and what Whitman called a "greater sense of entry" with a new entryway into what could be a growing baseball and softball complex.

The immediate plans, though, revolve around recruiting lounges and training facilities for both programs. Current plans for the Illinois Field expansion include a 1,750-square-foot recruiting lounge and 23,970-square-foot training facility with an expected cost of $8 million. A 1,300-square-foot recruiting lounge and 10,690-square-foot training facility with an estimated cost of $5 million to $6 million is planned for Eichelberger Field.

"We anticipate raising all of those dollars," Whitman said. "We have some commitments already in the book, if you will, but we have a little ways to go until we can launch those. (The facilities) will be big enough to house an infield space along with some hitting tunnels that will be able to drop down."

Coming sooner will be an expansion of Irwin Indoor Practice Facility, which will fall under the cost of the current construction of the Football Performance Center. A rooftop terrace for the latter has also been added.

"It's something we contemplated from the beginning, but we were cautious in rolling it out until we knew we had enough money in the bank," Whitman said. "Any time you take on a project like this, you always build in what they call alternates. We had a series of alternates in this project that, based on bidding and based on the numbers, we knew we may or may not be able to include in the package of the original project at the end of the day.

"As we've now gone through much of the bidding for the current building, we recognize we have the financial flexibility within the original budget number to be able to tackle a couple of those additional elements."

While Irwin won't be extended to a full 100 yards — the roof structure forestalls that — the building will be expanded to the west to allow for more practice space. Hitting tunnels for baseball and softball could also be installed while those teams wait for their own indoor practice facility.

"Excited about that addition and what that can mean for the functionality of that building, which continues to get tremendous traffic from a number of our different teams," Whitman said.