BRADENTON -- A new residence hall is adding a touch of community and sense of home for students at IMG Academy.
Each floor features two trained residence hall directors, some with athletic backgrounds, including a professional soccer player from South Africa. They'll be there for advice, security or even help with a recipe.
"They'll have their kids in their apartment to make pizza, or to bake cookies, and that's what makes it feel like home," said Richard Odell, IMG Academy headmaster and vice president.
The private sports academy, 5500 34th St. W., cut the ribbon on its $15 million, five-story residence hall Monday night, ready to welcome summer campers before students move in this fall.
The student-athlete academy functions as a private school for 700 pre-kindergarten through post-graduate students. The hall will house students from middle to high school.
Having a wide age group in one building together builds social development, Odell said, balancing athletics and academics.
"Where we have so many countries represented in our population, it is really critical that you find a friend in this environment," Odell said. "Finding that friend might be a person that is 6 or 7 years older that you aspire to be from an athletic standpoint. But if they become your good friend, then that relationship could be much longer lasting."
The dorm officially opens May 26 when summer campers arrive. Five hundred full-time students will live in the dorms this fall, but 1,000 summer campers will be the first to call the dorms home with four beds to a room.
The hall will increase student head count 59 percent to 1,300 from 818, said Chip McCarthy, director of planning and development and IMG chief financial officer.
A second residence hall is included in IMG's master site plan when the need comes, said Rick Fawley of Fawley-Bryant, which designed the hall and the west campus expansion. Tandem Construction built the residence hall and will also build the west campus additions.
"I mean, where could you go to see world-class athletes training next door?" Fawley said. "It's inspirational, you know?" The dorm is on the west side of campus, at the end of 47th Street West, on former football fields.
IMG is in the midst of a $36 million, 100-plus-acre expansion, including a 5,000-seat multisport stadium, new track and field area and a 40,000-square-foot field house to open in two phases this year.
The project received $2.3 million in Gov. Rick Scott's budget, which he signed Monday.
The 105,480-square-foot hall includes a student lounge on the first floor filled with televisions and lounge chairs, snack and IMG apparel shop, and study and laundry rooms on each floor.
"It was designed in a way where the room is not the central focus," said Steve Padgett, vice president of Fawley-Bryant. "The room is really a byproduct of the dorm. You got the downstairs space set up for social interaction with lounge seating, soft seating, and chairs that are bean bags that are easy to pick up and move around to get together in groups and have discussions."
Security and privacy are two major building features. Each wing on each floor is accessible by badge swipe and a security team observes security cameras at the first-floor station to keep tabs on all activity.
Eleventh-grader Abigail Tinsley is excited to move out of her old IMG dorm/apartment to a residence hall with a common area.
"We're actually going to have a new place to hang out together, socialize and do homework," she said. "It's really nice."
Each room has a private bathroom and sink, room for clothes and personal items to go with two beds. The age groups and genders will be divided by floor and wing.
IMG officials hope to avoid stinky, sweaty sports equipment spoiling the new facility. Athletes are encouraged to store gear at their respective sport areas, and equipment storage outside the hall is coming soon.
Odell hopes the experience of athletes living with each other will last a lifetime, mastering the mix of academics, athletics and social skills.
"To prepare for that college experience, they have to understand how important this piece is," Odell said. "What the colleges tell us, and universities, is merging those three things have the highest level of success. They would like to have some of our students become captains of their teams as freshman because they understand how to balance those three legs."
IMG's continued facility expansion and renovation continues today at the dedication of its Center for Personal Development in honor of the late legendary coach John Wooden. Wooden won 10 NCAA basketball titles in 12 years coaching the UCLA Bruins.
In 2012, IMG developed a relationship with Wooden's family and integrated his "Pyramid of Success" into its curriculum.
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.