The University of Florida Gator Marching Band celebrated the groundbreaking of a new permanent practice facility Friday afternoon.
A crowd of about 30 alumni, staff and band members gathered at Pony Field located on the northeast corner of Gale Lemerand Drive and Mowry Road on UF’s campus, where the new facility will be constructed.
The new practice field will feature NCAA-regulated artificial turf with “game-day”lighting. Additionally, the complex will have a centrally located outdoor research and teaching area, restrooms, storage space and a covered pavilion for inclement weather.
“This facility, dedicated to just the band, is going to give us the opportunity to have something that’s our own,” said Abigail Mistretta, incoming Gator Band drum major for the 2018-2019 season. “It gives us a sense of unity and a place where we can work hard and make something even better for game day.”
The marching band has practiced at Norman Field, along SW 13th Street, for the past three years, said Jay Watkins, associate director of bands at UF and director of the Gator Marching Band.
“It’s (Norman Field) not a field that is normally taken care of, and it’s not built to withstand a marching band,” Watkins said. “It’s an ideal place for us in terms of location to campus and the music building and band hall, but it’s just not the right field.”
He said the practice field’s artificial turf is ideal for marching routines with repetitive impact.
Lucinda Lavelli, dean of the UF College of the Arts, said funds were allocated by the UF Office of the Provost and the University Athletic Association. She has been working with UF Provost Joseph Glover on planning the new practice facility since 2009. Private donors also contributed to the project, she said.
Watkins said the total cost is still uncertain, but it will be completed in two phases. The first phase includes the field surface and safety pavilion, with a target completion by September. The second phase includes the research and teaching building, restrooms and health and hydration area. He is uncertain when this phase will be completed.
“We will definitely get into our new home as soon as possible,” Watkins said.
The Gator Marching Band, also known as “The Pride of the Sunshine,” practices many hours each week for their performances during halftime at football games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. It also makes numerous other appearances at events such as away games, fundraisers and pep rallies.
The Gator Marching Band was created in 1913 and has performed across the country and world in cities including Phoenix, New Orleans, Miami and London, England for the 2012 Summer Olympics, according to the University of Florida Bands website.
“We’ve practiced over the years on every dusty field on the University of Florida campus, so this is quite a treat,” said Robin Oegerle, president of the Gator Band Alumni Association.