B.J. Harris, Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau director, has quoted the movie "Field of Dreams" for years when referring to an indoor event center/indoor track at Pittsburg State: "If you build it, they will come."
But the converse is also true: If they're coming, you'd better build it.
Pittsburg State and community officials broke ground Tuesday on the new Robert W. Plaster Center, a site that has already been selected to host the 2016 and 2018 NCAA Division II Indoor Track Championships.
"It's hard to believe, but in a little more than a year, the space to our east will be filled with one of the largest, most advanced event centers that you'll find anywhere in the nation in Division II, and I'd argue anywhere in the nation, at any level," said Kendall Gammon, Pittsburg State director of development for intercollegiate athletics. "
The 154,000 square foot facility is priced at more than $17 million, and fundraising has taken place for many years to get to the point of groundbreaking on Tuesday. Technically, the ground had already been moved on the site, with some dirt work having taken place. However, the biggest news was the announcing of a name for the facility.
"Speaking with Dr. Clement, it was clear that Robert Plaster believed in the power of education and the strength that comes from community. We felt this project held true to these beliefs. so we brought it to the Robert W. Plaster Foundation for consideration. And after much discussion and due diligence, I'm happy to say that they, too, believed it was a worthy project and gave to Pittsburg State University a gift that is so substantial we are naming this facility in honor of Dolly and Steve's father, Robert W. Plaster," said Pittsburg State President Steve Scott.
Plaster's daughter, Dr. Dolly Clement, also the executive director of the foundation that bears his name, said her father would be honored to have the building bear his name.
"Coming from the background that he came from, he'd be very pleased to be in a position to help and give to others," Clement said. "We've known Gene [Bicknell] a long time, and he came and spoke to us about possibly helping with the arts center. But we didn't feel that was close enough aligned with our mission. But when this opportunity came up, it was. It kind of grew out of that relationship with Gene Bicknell."
But the funding came from more than one source. In fact, multiple groups in the Pittsburg State footprint have committed funds to make the Plaster Center a reality.
In January 2013, the City of Pittsburg voted unanimously to donate a total of $5 million to the project. Before that, the Crawford County Commission passed a transient guest tax increase, with a portion of that increase dedicated to the indoor event center. Finally, even earlier in 2012, Pittsburg State students voted for a fee increase that provided roughly $3 million to the center.
"What's even more impressive to me is the manner in which we developed this project. We knew it was ambitious," said Pittsburg State President Steve Scott. "We also knew we had great opportunity to serve the students, the community and even the region. When we reached out to the community and the students for help, they responded, by helping turn a good plan into what I call an exceptional one."
The timing of Tuesday's groundbreaking did not go without notice, as several speakers noted that almost 100 years ago, the community came together in the 36 hours after the fire that destroyed Russ Hall to secure the funding for its reconstruction.
In the same way, students and the city alike partnered with the university in 2014 to help bring the university forward.
"The Robert W. Plaster Center is another link in the historical bond between Pittsburg and Pittsburg State University," said Pittsburg Mayor Michael Gray. "It demonstrates the power of partnership and the Gorilla pride that runs through our city and our county."
Even those who weren't from the Pittsburg area recognized the significance of Tuesday's groundbreaking. That included Fred Logan, the chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents, who noted that the need and the successful model of Pittsburg State's public-private partnership to create the center.
"Today is a great dayfor Pittsburg State, the City of Pittsburg and the region. But make no mistake, today is also a great day for the state of Kansas. This kind of public-private partnership in higher education is what is going to make our state a great state. We have, today, with this public-private partnership, really advanced the cause of higher education at Pittsburg State," Logan said.
But an event center means very little without events to put in it. In December, the NCAA awarded the 2016 and 2018 Div. II Indoor Track Championships to a facility in which the soil had not even been broken. That is no longer the case.
In addition, the building will house locker rooms for football, as well as both men's and women's track athletes. There will also be an 11,000 square foot strength and conditioning room to help boost athletics at the university.
But the facility means much more than just athletics.
"Sports comes into it. You talk about possible intramurals that could go in there. You have movie night, during the warm months out at the stadium. There's going to be a video board in there, maybe even have movie night in there not only for the students, but for the community. Really, our imagination is the only limit not only for the university, but the city as a whole," Gammon said. "I think we tried to talk to as many people as possible to make sure it had as much flexibility as possible."
Having a facility of this caliber, along with additional renovations at the adjacent Weede Physical Education Building, will position Pittsburg State not only for track events, but also for other regional sports tournaments once the center is complete in spring 2015.
All told, Tuesday was a celebration that was a long time coming. It was a celebration not only of what is to come when the center is built, but also of the bonds that helped make the center -- and the events it will host -- a reality.
"Today's groundbreaking is about more than the construction of a facility," Scott said. "It's a celebration of the incredible partnerships that this university shares with its community, its students, its alumni and its donors. The strength of this university lies in these relationships and you see the results every time you walk onto this campus."