Wichita State held a groundbreaking ceremony for its $13.8 million Student-Athlete Success Center on Tuesday just outside of where it will be constructed on the southeast corner of Koch Arena with an expected completion date of July 2020.
The Student-Athlete Success Center will be a 36,000-square-foot, two-level facility devoted to the academic and athletic development for all Wichita State student-athletes. It will feature a 2,500-square-foot study hall, tutoring rooms and a larger computer center. The WSU track and field program will also have a dedicated space in the facility.
“In this facilities’ arms race that is universities and college athletics, we’re all in,” WSU athletic director Darron Boatright said in his speech to around 100 in attendance.
“We ask (student-athletes) to be committed in everything they do, so we need to reciprocate and do everything we can to make sure we’re on the cutting edge and giving them the opportunities they need,” Boatright later told the media. “This project will touch every young person in our athletic department.”
While the project will enhance the academic experience for student-athletes on every WSU team, it’s clear that the biggest beneficiaries of the building will be track and field athletes.
Currently, the track and field team is housed in the archaic bowels of Cessna Stadium. After speaking face-to-face with many of the athletes on the team, WSU Foundation president Elizabeth King knew how crucial this project was for the track and field team.
“We listened to our student-athletes, particularly our young, female athletes, who would talk about the mice that would run over their feet in the showers and the really deplorable conditions of the men’s and women’s locker rooms and team rooms,” King said in her speech. “Now they’re going to have a chance to have a state-of-the-art locker room and team room. They have deserved this for so many years, and finally now we’re going to make it happen.”
The housing situation for track and field athletes has been so poor that the program is ashamed of it when they try to recruit athletes to the team.
Adding brand-new locker rooms and a team room large enough to host team meetings with 120-plus athletes will be a game-changer for the track and field program, head coach Steve Rainbolt told the media. The track and field team will also have its own weight-lifting room in the new facility, which will lead out to Cessna Stadium.
“I will tell you those locker rooms are tired, there’s no question about it,” Rainbolt said. “There’s leaks and just the nature of an old facility like Cessna Stadium, they’re just not livable, they’re really not. This is going to be a spectacular upgrade.”
The current setup has student-athletes from every WSU team sharing the same academic center and weightlifting room inside Koch Arena. Both areas are overwhelmed by the total number of student-athletes they have to support.
King said after speaking with student-athletes from all sports, the biggest complaint she heard was that the overcrowded situation in the academic center did not lead to conducive studying and tutoring areas. Study halls are difficult with tables so crowded, and there aren’t enough private rooms where 1-on-1 tutoring can take place.
Those concerns were backed up by the many WSU head coaches who were in attendance Tuesday.
“In my eight years here, one of the biggest complaints from our student-athletes has been just the size of the academic learning center,” WSU softball coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “You’re trying to create a good learning environment for your student-athletes with tutoring and study hall, but it’s hard when they’re crammed in there and there’s only so many seats and so many extra rooms to step away. Some of that focus can be lost. This is something that our student-athletes deserve.”
The project also includes a renovation of administrative offices inside Koch Arena to create more space for the men’s basketball, women’s basketball and volleyball programs.
The contract has been awarded to Wichita-based construction firm Hutton for $10.4 million with the extra $3.4 million being used to cover other costs, such as architectural design, interior design and equipment. The WSU Foundation raised all $13.8 million in private funds for the project.