Mon, Jan. 5, 2009 - [Football] - Viewed 3798 times
WINFIELD, KS - In the arms race for new facilities, Southwestern College president Dick Merriman was already keenly aware that Winfield had fallen well off the pace. The arrival of Builder head football coach Ken Crandall in the spring of 2007 further solidified in Merriman's mind that 60-year old Sonner Stadium's best days were behind it.
"I think that was the emerging feeling," said Merriman. "Ken had just come from a school that built a new stadium. He said we've got to do something about this facility. We're not going to be able to compete if we try to do it at Sonner. I think all of us got to the same point where we said we need to take a step forward on this now. We were planning our next capital campaign and this made sense as to the future of the campaign."
And so the the process of building a new football stadium in Winfield officially took flight.
In the last 18 months, college officials and outside agencies have been busy at work coming up with designs for the new stadium, decided on new renovations, pitching the idea around town and to its alumni base, and raising money.
Regardless of how much money has been raised, the college plans on breaking ground for the new stadium immediately following the 2009 football season. The stadium is expected to be completed by the beginning of the 2010 season.
"Our intention is to work very actively between now and the end of the season in 2009," said Merriman. "We're going to build as much as we can build with what we've got raised. At the end of the 2009 season, we know we will have enough to put in the field, put in the track and to do some other things. We could probably do those things right now. I don't want to get something done and eliminate a sense of urgency about getting everything else done. In this economy, people are looking a little bit for a way to duck and run."
The new Sonner Stadium will seat close to 3,600, including 3,000 on the home side. It will include a synthetic turf field and an eight-lane polyurethane track with the potential to host soccer and lower level football games. Currently, Sonner Stadium is one of only two stadiums in the KCAC that still uses a grass field.
"It's a factor," said Crandall. "We get towards the end of year the Bermuda dries, grass turns brown,.dust is kicking up and it's not a pretty scene. We had several games this year where we really got lucky. Pretty soon we're going to hit that year where it's bang, bang, bang, bang and that field is going to be torn up by the end of September. With as many games as we currently play on the field and then with the opportunity to get more games on the field, I think we've got to have a synthetic turf."
Other new features include multiple ADA seating areas, a new press box with separate coaching and radio boxes, two VIP suites, a concession stand and restrooms at the south entrance and two plaza areas.
The plaza area on the south end will be located in between Stewart Field House and White P.E. Building. It will be available for tailgating, booster club cookouts and vendors pre-and post-game.
The tailgating area will eliminate 20-30 parking spots on game days, but Merriman says the college plans on eventually moving its plant operations building and turning that space into an expanded parking area east of the stadium.
Crandall also envisions a day where people will be encouraged to park at the high school to participate in a "Builder Walk."
"I think one of things that we've talked about that's exciting is to try to create somewhat of a tradition," said Crandall. "To park at the high school and then walk to the field and then after the game walk back with the guys, it would enhance this whole bonding to bring everyone together."
The stadium promises to be more fan-friendly with no-stairs access, wider rows, more leg room, improved sightlines and easier access to concessions and restrooms.
With new stadium renovations already completed or in the works in Hillsboro, Sterling, Salina, Lindsborg, Leavenworth, Newton and Arkansas City among others, the consensus was that a new Sonner Stadium was in desperate need.
KCAC schools aren't just outdoing Southwestern. Crandall says many potential recruits in Texas and Oklahoma are playing nicer facilities as well.
"So many players that come to visit us play in nicer stadiums than we do," said Crandall. "It's important that we put our best foot forward."
Doing so will not only attract better student-athletes to Winfield, but bigger events as well.
The new track puts Southwestern in the running to host the KCAC championships.
By making the track a bit narrower, it allows the field to also be used for soccer. All the college will need to do is paint over marks on the field which aren't visible from up in the stands. Playing soccer in the new stadium will make it possible for the college to host a KCAC soccer playoff game. Currently, they are unable to do so because they can't charge for admission on the grass fields.
"At the present, it's not up to snuff," said Merriman. "Right now we're not putting our best forward. That's for sure. You have to do it just because of the intangible feel it gives your community that we're all kind of facing the same direction."
Special thanks to Joey Falkoff, Sports Editor at the Winfield Courier, for providing this story. For the complete story and other information on the renovations at Sonner Stadium, please click here.