KU officials break ground on Rock Chalk Park; set goal of hosting 2014 Kansas Relays at site

Richard Gwin/Journal World Photo. Ground breaking for the Rock Chalk Park, looking northeast, was on Tuesday April 16, 2013, as some 57 acres will be developed for a track, bleachers, swimming, baseball and other sports activities.

The race is on to finish by the relays.

Kansas University officials on Tuesday officially broke ground on the multimillion-dollar Rock Chalk Park athletic complex in northwest Lawrence, with the hope of unveiling a world-class track and field stadium in time for the 2014 Kansas Relays.

In other words, a ribbon-cutting should be on tap for the complex near Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway about this time next year.

“I’m still feeling good about (the timeline),” said Thomas Fritzel, the Lawrence businessman who is the lead donor for the park and the chief contractor for the project.

Feeling good was the general mood of about 250 KU officials and boosters who gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony for a project that KU Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger said will address 20 years worth of frustrations with facilities for the track, softball and soccer programs.

Still to come: the start of construction of the city’s proposed 181,000-square-foot regional recreation center, which is slated to be adjacent to the KU facilities. City officials are scheduled to receive construction bids for the recreation center on May 14.

The Rock Chalk project — which KU officials have said would cost KU about $40 million to build, but is being constructed and financed by Fritzel and leased back to the university — will include several components:

• a 7,336-seat track and field stadium designed to receive the highest Class I certification from track and field’s international governing body;

• a 2,156-seat soccer field;

• a 1,037-seat softball stadium that also will include a 12,715-square-foot indoor softball training facility;

• about 4,500 square feet of locker room space for the facilities, plus concession stands and other guest amenities.

• about 1,500 paved parking spaces, with a large grassy area to accommodate overflow parking.

Zenger said KU officials will use the facility — particularly the track and field stadium that is expected to become just the fifth U.S. track to meet the top international standard — to host both conference and national events.

“We’re going to try to host any championship that comes our way,” Zenger said, “and that means all the way up to the NCAA Championships.”

Stanley Redwine, head coach of KU’s track and field and cross country teams, said he expects the new facility to be a regular host of the Big 12 Track and Field Championships and to receive strong consideration for national-level youth championships for events sanctioned by USA Track & Field.

“I believe Lawrence could be really huge with track and field,” Redwine said. “There already is an interest here, and now we’ll have the facilities.”

Tuesday’s event marked the ceremonial beginning of construction at the site, which is just north and west of where George Williams Way currently dead ends north of Sixth Street. But excavation work on the nearly 57-acre site began a few weeks ago.