Construction to Begin on New Track, Softball and Soccer Facilities
Jan. 15, 2013
LAWRENCE, Kan. - Construction of Kansas Athletics' brand-new, state-of-the-art track and field, soccer and softball facilities can begin soon, now that the City Commission of Lawrence has approved the proposed site for this use. The site, which has been named Rock Chalk Park, is near the intersection of 6th Street and George Williams Way, just east of K-10.
"This is great day for Kansas Athletics, the University of Kansas and the City of Lawrence," said KU Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger. "This will address longstanding needs that we have been trying to fill for well over a decade and probably should have addressed as many as 20 years ago.
"Having said that," Zenger continued, "we now have the opportunity to build these facilities and then as we move forward in our capital campaign we can focus our attention on two premier projects - the completion of the renovation of Allen Fieldhouse, which we know is our crown jewel, and the renovation of Memorial Stadium, and that includes the removal of the track, and the making of a more intimate setting. Why is that important? We live in a day and age of conference realignment. We have seen in recent months that it continues to bubble and percolate. We cannot afford at this time to sit back on our hands and have a stadium that does not reflect the commitment to big-time college football. If that's how we are perceived we could rue the day that we didn't act when we had the opportunity to act."
Kansas Athletics will now work with the KU Endowment Association and Bliss Sports, owned by Thomas and Dru Fritzel, to build the new facilities. The hope is to have the facilities ready for the 2014 Kansas Relays. Preliminary plans call for a track and field stadium with some 7,000 permanent seats and room for some 3,000 temporary seats, a softball stadium for 1,500 spectators, and a 2,500-seat soccer stadium. Zenger said two different independent studies showed that Kansas Athletics would likely have had to spend in excess of $50 million to build these facilities. Under the partnership of Thomas and Dru and Bliss Sports, Zenger said, Kansas Athletics will be able to build them for $39 million, spread out over 30 years.
"Thomas and Dru Fritzel stepped forward months, if not a year ago," Zenger said, "and said they'd really like to help the University of Kansas in this cause. We can't thank them enough for their benevolence. Their partnership has been outstanding."
Zenger said he believes KU's coaches should be commended for the success they've had despite competing with substandard facilities. Soccer and softball have competed in NCAA Tournaments recently; last year KU's women's indoor track team ranked second in the country while the women's outdoor team finished fourth. The men's track and field team is Top 25.
"Track and Field is back at Kansas," Zenger said, "and it's time to put that stake in the ground and treat those young men and women and coaches correctly. If we give them one of the top tracks in the nation, can you imagine what we can do here at the University of Kansas?"
Zenger said KU plans to build one of three or four highest-end competitive tracks in the nation - a world-class track that will allow KU to host not just state and regional competition, but national competition.
"We want to host the National Championships for Track and Field. I can't reiterate that enough," he said.
Zenger added that the soccer and softball upgrades are part of a decades-old Title IX review that KU needed to address.
"This is just an unbelievably golden opportunity to get that corrected," he said. "Even if we weren't under review, even if Title IX weren't involved, the right thing to do is to build facilities for those young women in soccer and softball that are equal to their peers in the Big 12 Conference. To put it bluntly, we are not equal to our peer institutions in the Big 12 Conference in regards to our soccer and softball facilities.
"Many of our fans and Lawrence residents aren't able to travel around the county with us as we compete or even around the region in the Big 12 Conference. If they could they'd see that in these sports we are woefully behind. It's hard for me to say that but it's reality, and that's why we're building these tremendous facilities."
Zenger addressed the issue of the proposed City of Lawrence Recreation Center, which would be built on the site of KU's new facilities.
"We have simply invited the city to build their rec center on our ground if it should so choose," he said. "First, because they spoke to us about a similar project about a year ago, and two, we believe it will be a more vibrant entity if we're all together and be more of an economic engine for the city."
Zenger envisions KU's new facilities and the city's Rec Center as part of a larger plan to draw families and youth to the city of Lawrence.
"In the next year or two as we complete our addition that will house Naismith's original rules of basketball," he said, "can you imagine being a young person coming to town and you get to play in a tournament, and by the way, you get to go see the Naismith rules, and while you're at it you might get to go see a Jayhawk game? That might be about as good an experience as a young person can have. Why not Lawrence, Kansas? That is really what I would throw out to people: Why not Lawrence? I grew up here being taught that this should be the leading community in the State of Kansas. We want kids all over Kansas to have that opportunity to come here more than once a year and taste what Lawrence has to offer and what the University of Kansas has to offer.
"And in the long run," Zenger continued, "we're in a battle for students at the University of Kansas. Nationally, that's the name of the game in higher education. Why not start them early with their love for the University of Kansas? So, at the end of the day, you can see how this project could have an effect on student enrollment. And student enrollment is probably the heart and soul of this community; that's what makes us tick, speaking of economic engines."
Zenger said this is a bright day for the University of Kansas.
"Thanks to our partnership with KU Endowment and Thomas and Dru Fritzel, we are now able to do something for the University of Kansas and the City of Lawrence that will raise our standing on the map in the world of athletics. I said from the day I took this job: This is the University of Kansas; this is the flagship institution of this great State. Initiatives like this help us act like it."
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