In the last week or two the Lawrence City Council approved the Rock Chalk Park development by the University. This development is designed to house the Jayhawk track, softball and soccer programs while also providing a new recreation center for the city and a world class venue that could host multiple events for a variety of sports. The move is considered the first step in significant upgrades across the board that will also likely include Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium.
Yesterday Sheahon Zenger made an announcement about the start of construction on these facilities and their scheduled completion timetable of Spring 2014.
"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."
This speaks to the scope and long term goal of the project and Rock Chalk Park is the first step in completing that goal. The pretty incredible thing to read is just how impressive the facilities for the non-revenue sports will be. This project is certainly about football and basketball, but Zenger is also pointing to the Rock Chalk Park project as an upgrade designed to position our non-revenue sports for major success.
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.
"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.
Sound impressive? It certainly sounds ambitious at the very least and I think that's a great thing for the University. Following the unceremonious end to the Lew Perkins era Kansas fans were in a bit of a rut. We supposedly whiffed on the athletic director at Tulsa before finding Sheahon Zenger at Illinois State. At the time I think there was some natural apprehension about anything associated with athletics at the University, fortunately Bill Self has always steadied the ship in basketball, Zenger took action where necessary in football, we've seen an uptick in production with Women's basketball, track and volleyball and now the announcement of this project sets forth a pretty significant shift toward the positive. Dr. Zenger is going to make a lot of Jayhawk friends if he continues this trend.