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Facility to Further Athletic Commitment

Although the aged indoor track facility was affectionately known as the "tin can," it was as much an eyesore as an empty can of Bud Light.

Come April, the land at the end of Fetzer Field that once supported the tin can will display the state-of-the-art Eddie Smith Field House at Fetzer Field.

"This indoor facility is going to be another stamp of commitment (to excellent facilities)," Moyer Smith, president of the Educational Foundation, said.

The field house, a $7.75 million project funded entirely by private donations, will be accepted from Hodess Building Company on April 15 and should be ready for use by May, said Jeff Elliott, senior associate athletic director.

Construction originally was set to be finished at the end of the fall semester, but the construction site itself revealed unforeseen problems. Smith said a large expanse of solid rock delayed the construction and added about $600,000 to the original cost.

Frigid winter weather also delayed several cement pours, which translated to lengthening the construction progress.

"Our facilities would be in the top 10 (in the nation) without the indoor facility," said Rick Steinbacher, assistant to the athletic director.

"The indoor field house fulfills a need. It creates a place to work out in and out of season. It puts the weather situation out of the question."

One of the facility's main purposes will be to accommodate UNC's indoor track team as well as hosting various regular and postseason ACC indoor meets.

The North Carolina High School State Championships are another possible event.

As an indoor track complex, the field house will have a six-lane, 200-meter NCAA championship track.

North Carolina's indoor track and field squads only will be able to participate in road meets again this year because the field house will not be complete during the indoor season.

The team has been using other campus facilities, including Carmichael Auditorium and the Smith Center, for practice on days when it is too cold for the team to workout outdoors.

The completion of the new facility will mark the first time in Dennis Craddock's 16 years as UNC's coach that both the men's and women's track teams will have locker rooms located in the field house.

The other major benefactor will be North Carolina's football team. The field house track can be converted into a 80-yard football field for use in inclement weather.

With help from a machine and six people, the "magic carpet" can be rolled out to cover the track with an artificial playing surface in less than an hour.

Smith said the process would have taken 12 men and more than six hours without the extra mechanization, which cost about $1 million.

An air conditioner and a dehumidifier will keep the field house at optimum temperature control.

The field house joins Henry Stadium, the McCaskill Soccer Center and the recent upgrade of Kenan Stadium in the list of North Carolina's renovation and construction plans aimed at making UNC's facilities among the best in the nation.

"Having a first-class facility is a great way to show recruits a commitment to student athletes," Steinbacher said.

"We are fortunate to have a great stadium and a state-of-the-art football facility. An indoor facility is an extension of that. We can practice when we need to, and it's tremendous for off-season workouts in an indoor football environment."

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While football and track will spend a lot of time in the field house, other varsity sports and some intramural sports will get a crack at the indoor facility.

Soccer, baseball and other varsity sports can use the structure as a retreat from bad weather.

Intramural sports also could see time in the field house after the priority time of varsity athletics and with consideration for the configuration of the playing surface, Elliott said.

"I know other universities that have facilities like this, and it's used from

7 a.m. until midnight," Craddock said.

"I think it'll become one of the most used facilities on campus. Our outdoor track is the most used facility on campus with walkers and joggers."

The field house also could be used for nonathletic events such as fund-raisers or receptions.

Elliott said the third floor of the facility will be constructed as a large open area that can later be used for offices or warm-up space, depending on the funding available for construction.

The rest of the field house should be ready for use in May. It will be none to soon for many at UNC.

"I've been waiting 33 years," Craddock said. "It'll be a dream come true, almost as great as having my first child."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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