Jan 29, 2015
Building a Fantastic Facility

By Abigail Funk

Dale Mildenberger, MS, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Utah State University, says prior to the August opening of USU’s new sports medicine facility, the school had the worst physical housing of sports medicine in all of college football–at any division. Spanning a paltry 900 square feet and housing one office with three desks for 14 athletic training staff members, three treatment tables, and five taping stations, Mildenberger no longer wants to remember how difficult it was to administer care for the university’s 300 student-athletes.
“When we recruited athletes, we purposely did not bring them to the athletic training room,” he says. “Not only was that facility abysmal for the health and welfare of our student-athletes, but it was a recruiting liability. Our president and athletic director knew we didn’t have enough money to solve all of our problems, so their philosophy was to fix the most glaring one first, and to do it right the first time.”

And fix the problem they did. Six years after Mildenberger was first asked for his input in designing Utah State’s sports medicine facility, he and his staff are housed in an 11,000-square-foot area with offices for each staff member, one for insurance records, a workspace for each of the 11 graduate assistants, and 22 treatment tables. And the sports medicine building is now a must-stop attraction on the recruiting tour.

While the sports medicine area is complete, the second and third floors of the facility are still under construction. The second floor will house coaches’ offices, and the third will hold classrooms and computer labs, where Mildenberger, who is also an Associate Professor, will hold his classes.

“Not only do we have an extremely efficient sports medicine area for our athletes, but our active graduate research program ties us to the institution academically and has greatly enhanced the cooperation between athletics and academics,” Mildenberger says. “It has really brought broader support to our project because it can be seen that we are in support of not only the university’s athletic mission, but its academic mission as well.”

Mildenberger’s third title of Senior Associate Athletics Director allowed him to serve as the department’s project manager–meaning he was at every construction meeting, architects’ meeting, and walked the site with those in charge each week. “It has dominated my existence for a considerable amount of time,” he says.

But if Mildenberger weren’t so closely tied to the project, he may not have gotten the space and amenities the sports medicine staff needed. “When we first started planning, the charge was for me to give them a preliminary design of what I thought a Division I program needed to handle our 16 sports,” he says. “I was also told to keep in mind it needed to stay that way for the next 50 years. I didn’t have to worry about space restrictions, and my first rendition was 12,000 square feet. So after ending up with 11,000, I feel like they listened to me very well.”

Mildenberger’s advice for other athletic trainers asked for their input in designing a new facility is to lobby for space–and lots of it. “Space is the hardest thing to get, and the hardest thing to keep,” he says. “Randy Spetman, the athletic director, and I went to several facilities around the country during the planning phase. The one thing everyone said was that they built it too small. We were then able to convince people here that space was something we couldn’t reproduce if it was lost in the planning phase.

“Because space costs money, when you’re asked how much space you need, don’t just give them a number,” Mildenberger continues. “You have to be prepared with a flow pattern. For example, in this design, the concept is that the more complicated the services required, the farther into the facility the athletes will be. We have self-serve items like band-aids and mouthguards set up on the first counter, taping is next, then evaluation, icing and stim treatments, and finally the team physician’s office. We have every inch of this facility used to its greatest efficiency.”

The final cost of the sports medicine facility was upward of $12 million, but anyone who walks into it would estimate the project cost much more. Mildenberger says volunteer labor and salvaging old material saved nearly $1,000,000 that was then used for other aspects of the project.

“For example, when we heard a major portion of downtown Salt Lake City was being redeveloped and a mall was being demolished, we went down there and salvaged close to $80,000 worth of glass that is now used as interior glass in the building,” Mildenberger says. “Instead of spending $75,000 on a filing system, we dismantled an old one from a law office on campus and transported and reassembled it ourselves. I also have a huge restaurant compartment sink to wash my coolers in that was originally estimated at a cost of $7,000. But myself and the athletic director happened to be driving by a bid sale during the renovation of the chemistry building on campus, and we picked up a sink for $10 that he and his wife reconditioned for the cost of cleaning materials.”

To top it all off, just a few weeks ago, Mildenberger learned USU’s sports medicine facility will be named the Dale Mildenberger Sports Medicine Complex. “I couldn’t be more honored,” he says. “None of this would have happened without the support and vision of our president and athletic director. Everyone involved in this process deserves recognition and thanks.”

Abigail Funk is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

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