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Lawrence OKs land for KU track, soccer and softball venues

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, at 10:47 p.m.

— For years, the Kansas Athletics department has wrestled with various plans to upgrade its facilities in Olympic, or non-revenue, sports. On Tuesday, KU moved forward with a plan that will address facilities in three of those sports — and could pave the way for more renovations at Memorial Stadium and Allen Fieldhouse.

The plan — a $39 million project in west Lawrence — will include a new track stadium and new venues for the Jayhawks’ softball and women’s soccer programs. The Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday approved the use of land near the intersection of Sixth Street and George Williams Way, one block east of the South Lawrence Trafficway. While plans and renderings are still in the approval process, construction could begin in a matter of weeks, according to KU associate athletic director Jim Marchiony.

If the project stays on time, Marchiony said, it’s feasible to expect that the new track could be ready for the Kansas Relays in the spring of 2014. A similar on-campus project was considered last decade, but the plan never came to fruition.

“This is much more economically feasible for us,” Marchiony said of the west Lawrence location. “And it allows us the ability to build really first-class facilities at a cost that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.”

The cost, officials say, is largely the result of Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel, whose Bliss Foundation came forward with an offer to build the project at close to $39 million spread over 30 years. 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.

KU officials believe the project will help the department meet Title IX requirements, while also supporting a track program that has fielded top-25 programs in both men’s and women’s track. In addition, the construction of the track could allow KU to move onto other projects.

Kansas has long planned to remove the track from Memorial Stadium and do another phase of renovations at Allen Fieldhouse, including concourse improvements in the upper levels. For now, officials say there is no timetable for those projects

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