The view from Rock Chalk Park looked plenty good for Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday.
After a more than hour-long tour of the sports complex in northwest Lawrence, commissioners agreed unanimously to grant a permit to allow the Kansas Relays to be held at the new track and field stadium from April 16-19, even though the project isn't entirely completed.
"We're very excited," said Brad Nachtigal, an associate athletic director for Kansas University. "We think it will show what a state-of-the-art track and field facility can be in the Midwest."
City balks at SportQuest name
Lawrence city commissioners aren't quite ready to go on a SportQuest after all.
Commissioners on Tuesday balked at the idea of naming the city's new recreation center SportQuest at Rock Chalk Park. Instead commissioners said they wanted another two weeks to consider name ideas.
Commissioners said they weren't sure the SportQuest name sent the right message.
"I've got too much of my time and energy in that place, and some of my hide too," City Commissioner Bob Schumm said. "I just can't name it something I don't agree with."
Commissioners had some discussion on other possible names. Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said he like a name that include Ad Astra, which is part of the Kansas state motto and generally means in Latin "to the stars." Mayor Mike Amyx, though, said he wanted some thought about having Lawrence be part of the center's name.
Commissioners appointed Farmer to work with staff members on name ideas.
The view of Rock Chalk Park wasn't universally loved, though. Commissioners approved the temporary occupancy permit over the objections of Jack Graham, a neighbor who has expressed concern about the glare of the 100-foot tall stadium lights used at the track and field stadium.
Lawrence attorney Rick Hird, who was representing Graham, said the glare of the lights would create a "permanent and significant reduction in the quality of their living environment." Currently Graham's home is the closest to the site, but city plans call for other neighborhoods to be built near the center in the future.
City staff members conceded that the process for approving a lighting plan for Rock Chalk Park was not properly followed. The City Commission previously had directed that no building permit for the project be issued until a lighting plan for the entire complex was approved by the commission. But on Tuesday, staff members said despite that error, a recent analysis by an outside engineering firm confirmed the installation of the lights met the standards in the city code.
Lights are scheduled to be used for the KU Relays. When commissioners toured the site Tuesday, they were told the track and field stadium, the six concession stands, locker rooms and other such areas of the 7,000 seat stadium are scheduled to be used as part of the relays. But barriers will be put in place to keep spectators away from the uncompleted softball and soccer facilities at the complex. A majority of the parking lots for the complex will be open for the relays, but commissioners did approve a permit that will allow on-street parking on several public streets near the complex.
Tuesday's tour also included a peek at the 181,000-square-foot recreation center at Rock Chalk Park.
The building — which will include eight full-court gyms, an indoor turf field, fitness area and other amenities — now has its walls and roof. The building is expected to open for use by September.
Commissioners said they felt the project was moving ahead well. They said they were amazed at how big the facility is, the amount of natural light that is being used in the building and the easy access visitors will have to a wooded area and other natural sites that have been preserved as part of the project.
"I think when people see this place, they are going to fall in love with it," said City Commissioner Terry Riordan.
Nachtigal said if the weather cooperates, KU officials are expecting a large crowd at the relays, in part because local residents will be curious to see the complex. Even though the work isn't complete, Nachtigal said he thinks the public will get a good glimpse at the track and field, soccer and softball facilities, which will be privately owned by Lawrence-based Bliss Sports but will be leased to KU Athletics.
"We're probably going from the worst facilities in the conference for these three sports to the best facilities in the conference for all three," Nachtigal said.