It’s been a three-year wait since the University of Alabama put its order in. Now, the new Alabama Athletics Dining Facility is ready to begin serving.
The facility was officially opened on Monday at a ribbon cutting ceremony featuring head coach Nick Saban, director of athletics Greg Byrne, president Stuart Bell, director of performance nutrition Amy Bragg and student-athletes.
The 25,000-square foot dining hall opened earlier this month and began serving meals to the football team. The project cost a little over $15 million, according to assistant athletics director Brandon Sevedge.
“To my knowledge, there’s no place with this kind of square footage and the ability to feed an entire athletic department this way,” Bragg said. “We’re very, very fortunate.”
The idea for the facility began when the NCAA passed legislation that allowed schools to provide unlimited meals and snacks to student-athletes in 2014. The staff at Alabama took some time to learn about the demands that would be necessary for a new dining facility with the new rules. Then it took time to gain support for the project and plan the building. Construction itself took about a year.
The building is two floors with outdoor patios on both the upper and lower levels overlooking Alabama’s football practice fields. It features more than 50 flat screen TVs, 10 cook-to-order stations, plus a fuel center for snacks and shakes.
“I never thought, 15 years ago, that I would be working in a place like this,” Bragg said. “I could not have imagined or dreamed it. Back then, we could hand out a Gatorade or a water, maybe a multivitamin or Clif bar. … We’ve come a long way.”
Its staff includes five “performance chefs,” four registered dieticians and more than 20 assistants. It also has DXA technology that can assess body composition and bone health. The facility has capacity for 500 people. It also considered details to make things more convenient for student-athletes, such as outlets to charge cell phones and close proximity to a campus bus stop. There are also video cameras to produce how-to cooking videos.
“We all want to reinvest in the student-athletes that we have here,” coach Nick Saban said. “For them to get the first-class quality nutrition and have a facility that obviously will serve them well, and also attract great recruits here in the future, is something that’s very important to the continued success of all programs at the university. Not just the football program.”
Alabama also debuted the new Robert Alan Hall Recruiting Room adjacent to the dining facility. The recruiting room cost an additional $2 million. It houses Alabama’s national championship trophies, displays its championship rings, show off the program’s Heisman Trophies and more.
University staffers, athletics employees and donors toured the new dining facility after the ceremony. The facility is designed to be used by all programs within the athletic department.
“Coach Saban talks about recruits, what they expect when they visit Alabama,” Byrne said. “They expect us to be the best. Our new athletic dining facility today is another great reminder of that.”
Bragg and other Alabama staffers helped plan the building based on what was needed to fill the menus that are fed to college athletes. That informed the type of equipment and staff that would be needed.
“When I first started (in college sports), meals were viewed as an award instead of as essential as a sock or a shoe or equipment that we provided,” Bragg said. “To be able to develop an athlete and support their sport and their demands, we can now provide and have an amazing facility to do that.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.