The University of Minnesota is fast-tracking a $150 million chunk of an ambitious project to reshape its 25 sports.

Construction bids to build new Gophers football and basketball facilities and a Center for Excellence for all student-athletes are now due in less than three weeks. New university documents reveal plans for groundbreaking to begin no later than September, with an expected completion date of July 2017.

“Our goal is still to [begin construction] as soon as we can,” said Chris Werle, Gophers senior associate athletic director. “If we can go sooner than the date listed that you’ve seen, we will.”

The university officially opened its “athletics facilities village” project to bidding from construction companies late last week with a request for proposal (RFP), laying out the construction timeline for the first time. The 560-page document calls for bids by Feb. 9 and a construction company chosen by March 2.

Werle said Monday that $65 million has been raised toward the project, adding that the goal for all phases of construction remains $190 million.

“We’re trying to get certain things done quickly,” Werle said. “When we started talking about this, we had a five- to seven-year plan. Now, we’re 18 months into it, and this RFP shows a direction we’ve taken that will get certain aspects of the village built more quickly.”

Left out of this initial $150 million phase are plans for underground parking at the village and renovations to existing facilities. Now listed under “future phases” are plans to repurpose the existing Gibson-Nagurski football practice facility for Olympic sports, soccer, baseball, softball and golf. Werle said the university still has the same original goals of this project.

“The [fundraising] campaign is still $190 million, and that won’t change,” Werle said. “We’re finding ways to do things more economically and hopefully quicker.”

Immediate attention, however, will go to new practice facilities for football and men’s and women’s basketball, and an academic-focused building for all student-athletes — the Center for Excellence that will be funded by a $25 million donation from Land O’Lakes in September. That $15 million facility is expected to open in the fall of 2016.

Lou Nanne, a former North Stars executive and Gophers hockey icon, is leading the U’s fundraising campaign, and he said Monday that the new strategy is not tied to a lack of fundraising.

“It wasn’t taking into effect anything in the fundraising,” Nanne said. “We’ve just got some cost [analysis] we’ve done on the project — there were some lowering of costs for it, and we know where we can go.

“I want to get this money in and find a way to get started as quickly as we can. They focus on the timeline, I focus on just making sure we get the project done.”

Arms race

The village project joins the handful of major athletic complex projects underway across the country and throughout the Big Ten athletic conference, including multimillion-dollar investments at Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan. Northwestern is planning to spend $220 million on a new lakefront athletics facility. In 2012, ESPN rated Northwestern’s football facilities as the worst in the Big Ten. The Gophers were ranked ninth. In December, Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, a former coach who tours Big Ten campuses twice a year, said Minnesota “might be last.”

Gophers football coach Jerry Kill pleaded all season for a major upgrade. “We have to improve our practice facilities, strength training and academic facilities,” he said before the season. “This is a critical project for us.”

Days before the Gophers played in their first Jan. 1 bowl game in 53 years, Kill again was focused on facilities.

“It’s time for the university to say, ‘Hey, look where we’re at. Let’s go get it,’ ” Kill said in December. “That’s what Wisconsin did with [former coach] Barry Alvarez. They started winning and then said, ‘Hey, we’re hungry for this. We want to go for the marbles.’ ”

Construction stage

The U worked with two firms during the recently completed design stage, BWBR Architects of St. Paul and RDG Planning & Design, which has offices in Iowa and Nebraska. The next steps are hearing from construction companies and accepting a bid.

The RFP document highlights some unique construction challenges, specifically the soil and site preparation that must occur before any buildings go up. A lengthy environmental analysis concludes that “site preparation and soil correction constitutes a significant percentage of the project budget” because of a long history of uses that have resulted in easements and a web of below-ground elements and utilities.

Werle added the environmental component is expected to be less than 10 percent of the total budget. “It’s an old residential neighborhood,” he said. “We are being conservative [in the cost estimate], and we’re being safe. Obviously, we’re going to ensure that area is cleaned up.”

The construction company that will take on these challenges, and the opportunity to reshape a high-profile section of campus, will be known in the coming weeks.

McGough Construction, based in St. Paul, has a deep portfolio of past projects with the U, including the $160 million Ambulatory Care Center currently under construction. The company’s spokeswoman, Mindy Gigante-Carlson, said the firm is looking at the materials and will likely make a bid.

M.A. Mortenson Co., based in Golden Valley, also has a history of doing work with the U. Construction is scheduled to begin in September, when Mortenson will still be in the throes of building the new Vikings stadium. However, Mortenson acted as a consultant to the U by developing the cost estimates, according to the RFP. The company did not return calls Monday.

Doran Companies, a Twin Cities-based developer and construction firm, won’t be bidding on the project. A company spokesman, John Wodele, said McGough, Mortenson and the Kansas City-based J.E. Dunn Construction Group are all likely contenders. “Those three kind of trade off at the U,” he said.

“Because of the work we have done with the university over the years, we really view them as a legacy client of ours,” said Geoff Glueckstein, general manager of J.E. Dunn’s Minneapolis office. “Probably like many of the other good construction companies in town, we have been watching and waiting for this project for quite some time.”

A spokeswoman for Minneapolis-based Ryan Companies, Linda White, said Ryan would not be adding this project to its portfolio of high-profile work that includes the ongoing Downtown East redevelopment.

The construction industry is facing higher costs for materials and labor that could add cost to the project as it proceeds. Minneapolis had a record year for construction in 2014 with about $2 billion worth of building permits issued.

“Is there going to be an increased pressure? Yeah. But we have really great tradespeople in this town. The construction labor and supplies may creep up a bit, but it shouldn’t be too bad,” Wodele said.


Staff writer Kristen Painter contributed to this report.