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SPOTLIGHT
Ceremony kicks off construction of new training facility

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Ceremony kicks off construction of new training facility

Published on -6/20/2012, 10:18 AM

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By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

The wind was gusting to more than 40 mph Tuesday afternoon, and people were holding on to their hats -- literally.

Still, most folks standing in the open lot just outside Lewis Field Stadium were smiling.

While this was no day for a fancy hairdo, it was indeed a day to celebrate.

Lead donors and Fort Hays State University personnel held their shovels at arms length to avoid getting dirt blown in their faces as they turned soil on the area formerly known as the Tiger football practice field.

Come next spring, the wind can blow all it wants. Fort Hays athletes in outdoor sports wanting to train can just go inside the new Schmidt/Bickle Indoor Training Facility.

Construction for the 50,400 square-foot facility will begin immediately, with a projected completion date in the spring of 2013.

"We don't have to worry about the wind blowing or how damn cold it is out here," said Don Bickle, one of the lead donors along with his wife, Chris, and Bob and Pat Schmidt.

"To put it simply, I'm ecstatic. This will be a tremendous benefit not just to football and baseball, but to track and all the other outdoor sports at FHSU, and it will be good for the economy of western Kansas."

A combined gift of $2 million from those two couples kick-started the project in 2010, and all four were present for the groundbreaking ceremony.

Bickle, an avid fan of FHSU sports and a familiar sight at a variety of Tiger athletic events, addressed Tiger athletes -- current and future -- in the crowd.

"I hope you're as excited and proud of this facility as I am," he said. "Now, we're going to expect some good things out of you."

FHSU Athletic Director Curtis Hammeke, a former athlete and coach at Fort Hays, called it a "dream for this day to actually be here."

Hammeke played baseball for the Tigers in the early 1980s, then coached his alma mater's baseball team for five years in the early '90s.

"This is an example why we need such a facility," said Hammeke, who now is beginning his ninth year as Fort Hays AD.

In addition to indoor batting cages for baseball and softball, the facility will include a 65-yard multi-sport practice field, five 70-yard track lanes and pits for long jump, high jump and pole vault, as well as a new weight room and team meeting rooms.

Hammeke said approximately 450 athletes participate in intercollegiate sports at Fort Hays.

"It's designed to facilitate football, but the space benefits everybody else, too," Hammeke said, listing recruiting as a significant benefit of such a facility.

"I think it's going to snowball to the winter sports," taking some of the load off the use of the weight room in Cunningham Hall.

Compton Construction Co. of Wichita came in with a bid of $3,628,000 as the general contractor, lower than the original estimate of $4 million.

Therefore, two alternates were able to be added to the original plans -- veneer on two sides that will match the limestone wall around the stadium, as well as upgrading meeting room space.

That, coupled with $200,000 of weightlifting equipment, brought the total cost of the facility to $4.2 million.

One of the Tiger coaches with a big smile on his face was Chris Brown, who is entering his second year in charge of the Tiger football program.

"There was talk of it, and I was hoping it would really happen," Brown said of his interview for the head coaching job in 2010.

"I took their word for it," Brown said as he turned and glanced at the open field of buffalo grass, soon to be the sight of construction crews that he can watch daily.

"And," added Brown, whose office is in the upper level of the stadium, "it's going to happen."

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