Wichita The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday gave the University of Kansas authority to build a $26 million indoor practice facility for a football team that hasn’t had a winning record since 2008.
Meeting on the campus of Wichita State University, the board voted unanimously to authorize KU to revise its current capital improvement plan to include construction of the new facility, even though a final location has not yet been determined.
The KU Athletics Department wants to build the facility close to Memorial Stadium. The current indoor facility, the Anschutz Sports Pavilion, is near Allen Fieldhouse, 0.7 miles from Memorial Stadium and is a facility that has to be shared by several sports teams.
The indoor practice facility is just one part of an overall $300 million renovation project that KU has planned for Memorial Stadium, a project that is expected to be funded entirely with private donations.
That’s only slightly less than the $350 million that KU invested in the Central District development project, which involved the construction of five new buildings including a science building, a residence hall and dining facility, a parking facility and a power plant.
KU Chancellor Douglas Girod, however, said it’s still not certain that the entire $300 million stadium renovation will be funded.
“First of all, it’s really multiple projects,” he said during an interview before the Regents meeting. “The indoor practice facility is the first. Then there’s two to three, maybe even four phases of the stadium, and we will step through those as resources and interest allow. So whether we ever get to all $300 million or not, we’ve had indications from our donors that they want to see what the whole thing would look like and then we’ll start working on it in pieces.”
“It’s also a lot cheaper than knocking it down and building from scratch, which a lot of schools have done,” he added.
The project comes at a time when the KU football program has been coming under pressure for the fact that it has won only nine games, and only three Big 12 conference games, in the last five seasons.
But Girod defended the project, saying it’s necessary for the Jayhawks to have any hope of turning the team around.
“There is a chicken-and-egg phenomenon here,” he said during an interview before the board meeting. “We’re the only school in the Big 12 that doesn’t have a dedicated indoor practice facility. At the end of the day, when you’re recruiting kids, these things do matter. Would it be easier to do all this if we had a winning record? No question about it. We’re digging our way out of a pretty big hole, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”
Although KU officials initially planned to erect the facility on the same site as the current outdoor practice fields just south of the stadium, Girod said the university is now looking at other sites around Memorial Stadium.
“We’re actually thinking right now, it’s probably more on the west side of the stadium than right along Mississippi Street for a number of reasons,” he said. “So we’re trying to get permission from the Board (of Regents) that’ll allow us to dive deeply into those details. There are actually at least three sites around the stadium that we’d like to look at.”
Girod told the board that KU plans to engage the campus and surrounding communities in conversations to determine the best location for the facility. He said the university hopes to begin construction after the current football season ends Nov. 25, and to complete the project before the start of the 2018 season.