Wichita State Shockers

Koch’s $4.5 million gift begins fundraising toward WSU athletic building, possible luxury boxes

WSU Athletics Student Center west view.
WSU Athletics Student Center west view. GLMV Architecture

Koch Arena needs more space for athletes, coaches and staff – and more space for fans with money to spend on Wichita State athletics.

On Tuesday, WSU announced a $4.5 million gift from Koch Industries and the Koch Family Foundation for a student services building – to be located southeast of Koch Arena – and a renovation of existing offices. The gift starts WSU on a fundraising project estimated to top out at around $15 million for athletics and could include the addition of six to 12 suites in Koch Arena.

“The renovation 12 years ago was a game-changer, thanks to Koch Industries,” WSU athletic director Eric Sexton said. “Now their continued support is going to allow us to begin the process of trying to realize that next quantum leap.”

Sexton said it is too early in the fundraising work to establish a timeline for either of the projects. The size of the student services building could change, depending on fundraising. For example, a 300-seat auditorium and an enclosed walkway connected to Koch Arena are options that could wait, depending on interest from donors.

Plans and drawings for the building are ahead of those for Koch Arena suites, Sexton said. The suites are dependent on fundraising and the market for selling those suites.

Plans call for the suites to be on the Cessna Stadium side of the arena, above existing seats. Sexton said some of the upper rows of current seats might be removed.

WSU does not want to lose any of Koch Arena’s 10,506-seat capacity, and the addition of suites might increase the capacity slightly.

“We’re looking at, is that a viable option that we can afford to do?” Sexton said. “I think we’ll get there, but we are not there yet.

“It’s part of this project, but it’s a different financing mechanism. It won’t be purely fundraised dollars like the (student services building).”

Naming rights for the building and renovations will be sold.

Should the suites move ahead, WSU’s goal is to schedule construction without interfering with sports schedules. Sexton said GLMV Architecture and Dudley Williams and Associates, a structural engineering firm, looked at Koch Arena to determine whether suites can be added.

“We’re pretty sure we can,” Sexton said. “I wouldn’t want people to think we’re just sort of going through the motions. We are feverishly working to try to make that work, if possible.”

A new student services building would house academic and compliance offices, computer labs and study areas. The men’s and women’s golf and men’s and women’s track and field offices would move to the new building. A weight room, primarily for track and field, would occupy the first floor of the three-floor building. Track and field locker rooms would move from under Cessna Stadium to the new building.

In Koch Arena, men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball would expand their office space. Marketing, development and media relations would move to the first floor, into the space vacated by academic services. Plans call for a renovated Champions Club and space for the souvenir store would double.

‘Ready for an upgrade’

WSU renovated Levitt Arena in 2003 into Koch Arena and added offices, academic, training and weight facilities and a practice gym. It was a $25 million project started with a $6 million gift from Koch Industries.

Since 2003, WSU added around 30 staff members, bringing its total of coaches, administrators and graduate assistants to around 100. It added 100 athletes and now counts 300 on its rosters for 15 men’s and women’s sports. Most of the growth in athletes comes from track and field, which has almost doubled its numbers to around 130.

“They (Koch officials) were clear on wanting to support Koch Arena from beginning,” said Elizabeth King, president of the Wichita State University Foundation. “(Charles) Koch’s name is on that building, and they take that very seriously. They want the arena to always be a quality experience for the community and the students. It was ready for an upgrade.”

It did not take long for WSU to outgrow Koch Arena as programs such as track and field grew and the NCAA changed limits on coaches and graduate assistants allowed.

Sexton said space the computer area used by athletes would grow from 720 square feet to 1,200 square feet. Space used for study hall and tutors would grow from 1,800 square feet for study hall to 3,000 square feet.

Space for people and storage is at a premium on every level of the arena.

Assistant golf coaches and women’s basketball graduate assistants share a space originally intended as a break room. Volleyball director of operations Shannon Lamb shares an office with assistant coach Sean Carter.

In the academic center, one of four tutoring rooms is now an office and temporary dividers serve as study space. Three years ago, administrators discovered empty space behind the men’s restroom in the tunnel leading to the court from the home locker rooms. It’s now used for storage.

“We are, in all shapes and sizes, basically doubling our students services and support (space), along with the appropriate office space,” Sexton said. “We are ready to push forward and remodel to create great spaces.”

Improvements to Eck Stadium are also part of the university’s capital campaign. Fundraising plans call for a strength and conditioning facility, used by baseball and softball teams, attached to the indoor practice facility, along with new dugouts and lockers.

WSU announced the renovations to Levitt Arena in 2000 and called it the Roundhouse Renaissance. It helped launch a period of strength and growth that included successes in all sports and growths in attendance and revenue.

In 2004, WSU won its first Missouri Valley Conference All-Sports Trophy since 1988. Volleyball and women’s basketball rose to unprecedented heights, both in the MVC and nationally.

Most important, men’s basketball revived after a dismal decade and returned to national prominence under coaches Mark Turgeon and Gregg Marshall. In 2014, WSU won the MVC All-Sports award for the eighth time in 11 years.

Throughout the years, WSU improved locker rooms, replaced the scoreboard and created a recruiting room to keep pace with the building boom in college athletics. On Tuesday, WSU made another big move.

Sexton is thrilled that Koch Industries endorses the work done by the athletic department to the tune of a major gift.

“We are still heading in a course that they find of value,” Sexton said. “And that course is also begetting the success that we all would like, both in the classroom with student-athletes getting their degrees … and competing on the court.”

Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @paulsuellentrop.

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