LAWRENCE — For now, the plot of land near the intersection of 6th Street and George Williams Way is just open space. But if you squint really hard, you can almost imagine what’s coming.
Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger on Tuesday formally unveiled a plan to build Rock Chalk Park, the new three-venue sports complex in west Lawrence that will feature new facilities for track and field, softball and women’s soccer.
Construction on the $39 million project should begin in a matter of weeks, Zenger said, and the hope is that the track facility will be ready to play host to the Kansas Relays in the spring of 2014. The announcement had been long expected. But the beginning of this project, officials say, will help clear the way for two significant projects for the school’s two major programs.
"As we move forward in our capital campaign,” Zenger said, “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.”
The project will also help the school address Title IX compliance issues. Here are the preliminary details behind the project:
1. A track and field stadium with some 7,000 permanent seats and room for some 3,000 temporary seats
2. A softball stadium for 1,500 spectators
3. A 2,500-seat soccer stadium.
KU officials contend that two independent studies showed the cost for the project at more than $50 million. But the $39 million price tag, officials say, is largely the result of Lawrence developers Thomas and Dru Fritzel, whose Bliss Sports Foundation came forward with an offer spread over 30 years.
“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,” Zenger said. “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.”
Among the ancillary benefits of the project: Zenger is hopeful that the track may one day play host to a national championship track meet.
"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."
The city of Lawrence is also considering a separate project for a recreation center at the same site, but the future of that project will not affect the KU project