Breathing room at WSU

Athletes and coaches anticipate renovations

Written by Amy Palser | Renderings by GLMV Architecture & SJCF Architecture

Wichita State University’s growing athletic program has created a space issue, but it won’t be a problem much longer.

School officials and student-athletes alike are looking forward to a $3 million overhaul at Eck Stadium-Home of Tyler Field, followed by a $13 million expansion of Charles Koch Arena, including construction of the brand new Student-Athlete Success Center.

“The entirety of both projects helps every student-athlete,” said Alex Johnson, WSU’s director of athletic development. “It touches each of our student’s daily life in some form or fashion at Wichita State. Every coach and student-athlete we’ve talked to about the project is excited.”

The improvements are part of the WSU Foundation’s larger Shock the World campaign, a $250 million fundraising effort to advance Wichita State University. While fundraising for the Eck Stadium and Koch Arena projects isn’t complete, officials hope friends of the university will step up to the plate and help WSU achieve its goal.

“We’re in a significant space crunch,” Wichita State athletic director Darron Boatright said. “We have multiple people with offices now in areas that were built to be storage closets, break room … we have women’s basketball, with their director of operations, in a storage room. Both golf assistant [coaches] office in what was designed to be a closet.”

In the last 15 years, WSU has seen a nearly 40 percent increase in student-athletes — from 223 in 2003 to the current 305, mainly due to additional scholarship and walk-on opportunities. Meanwhile, WSU athletics has also seen a 40 percent increase in full-time employees and graduate assistants — from 75.5 in 2003 to 105.5 in 2018, according to Johnson. That growth comes from NCAA changes allowing more coaches.

So the planned additions and renovations will be a welcome change for staff and students alike, giving them space to spread out — not to mention bringing the facilities into alignment with WSU’s competitors in the American Athletic Conference.

Eck Stadium

The Eck project will feature a new weight room and clubhouse, with work set to begin in late May or June.

“We anticipate breaking ground on the baseball project upon completion of the 2018 season,” Boatright said. Currently $2.7 million of the $3 million project has been committed. “We can't start construction until we have all funds committed. They can be committed with a pledge and a five-year commitment to pay off that pledge.”

Brent Kemnitz, assistant athletic director for outreach and staff development, said there is a definite need for the Eck project.

“I was a pitching coach for 38 years, and the value I see in the Eck Stadium project is really priceless,” he said. “We built the Bombardier Learjet Indoor Practice Facility in 2009 and it was supposed to eventually have a clubhouse, coaches’ offices and weight training facility. That project’s been on hold for seven or eight years now.”

Now just $200,000 away from the final goal, Kemnitz said it’s exciting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. “With the help of Alex, and Darron Boatright and so many supporters, we’ve made a lot of progress in the last 18 months. We’ve got a lot of generous people out there who love the program.”

When it’s done, the facility will be as good as anything out there in college baseball — and that not only makes life better for student athletes, it helps with recruiting, too. And the additions will be the icing on the cake for a truly distinctive stadium.

“It’s so unique and it’s got so much personality, especially for one on a college campus,” Kemnitz said of Eck Stadium. “It’s got luxury boxes, an All-American club where you can have dinner, the hill where you can hang out and be out in the sun. It’s got a lot of unique features that make it one of the best venues in college baseball.”

Koch Arena and Student-Athlete Success Center

Meanwhile, the Koch Arena project includes renovating coaches’ and administrative offices inside the arena, moving the Shocker retail store to a larger space in the arena, and renovating and reconfiguring the Champions Club.

“Charles Koch Arena is a wonderful symbol of our Shocker spirit,” said Elizabeth King, WSU Foundation president and CEO. “It's our goal to make it a facility that reflects the legacy of our athletic programs.”

But the project’s pièce de résistance is the Student-Athlete Success Center, which will be built just south of Koch Arena, with a glass-enclosed walkway connecting the two buildings. The walkway will be named the Equity Bank Walkway of Champions to commemorate Equity Bank’s substantial gift for the project.

“I was guilty of thinking, why do we need an improvement? We upgraded it in 2003,” Kemnitz said. “But we’ve outgrown it. And now that I’m over here and my office is in Koch Arena, I see the need. We’re out of space.”

The 48,000-square-foot center will be a three-level complex with a study hall nearly twice as large as the existing one inside the arena. The study hall will be a welcome addition since the current Barry and Paula Downing Academic Learning Center has tutors working out of storage rooms designed to hold books, and temporary dividers occupy a corner of the room to give student-athletes a place to study alone.

“Today’s student-athlete wants as much privacy as possible,” academic coordinator Andrew Moses said. Privacy for quiet study, as well as space for tutoring, will be plentiful in the new Student-Athlete Success Center.

Other features will include a strength-and-conditioning center, training room and a student lounge.

With $10.75 million committed so far for the Student-Athlete Success Center, officials hope to start the project once the Eck Stadium project is finished, depending on fundraising.

Kemnitz said WSU has entered a new level of competition in the world of college athletics, and that means the upcoming renovations are crucial to the university’s continued success.

“Darron Boatright and President [John] Bardo getting us into the American Athletic Conference is one of the best things that happened to us. We’re in big league markets across the country,” he said. “But with that comes increased competition. I hate to use the word ‘arms race,’ but it kind of is. We’re all recruiting prime athletes nationwide. We’ve got to keep up from a facilities standpoint.”

Kemnitz said there is currently an amazing amount of energy at WSU, and it’s an exciting thing to be a part of.

Johnson agrees. “Things are moving up. It’s just an exciting time. We’re so close to these two goals, and our supporters have been instrumental in getting us to where we are. The excitement with every sport, every student-athlete, is through the roof.”

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