Wichita State University received approval from the Kansas Board of Regents on its proposal to tear down 74-year-old Cessna Stadium and build in its place a new, smaller multi-purpose stadium.
Modernizing the facility to match the surrounding facilities has become a priority for new WSU president Dr. Jay Golden, who envisions the multi-purpose stadium also attracting high school and club events for soccer, lacrosse and track and field. The proposal estimates it will cost $1.4 million to raze the stands at Cessna Stadium.
WSU athletic director Darron Boatright emphasized that this is just the first hurdle to clear and that WSU has no immediate plans to begin destruction, even if their proposal is approved by the Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday. WSU will still have to raise the money from private funds, something it has not yet done.
“This is just the first step in a long process we would have to go through should the funding source come available,” Boatright told the Eagle. “There’s no timetable for this project. This just lets us know what the thoughts of the regents are and if we have their support.
“We would still have to figure out how we would find a funding source for this and see where that stands on the university’s list of priorities.”
The 30,000-seat stadium is currently home to the Wichita State track and field team and also the nation’s largest high school track and field meet. The competition area remains at a high level, but the condition of the amenities in the stadium have deteriorated drastically since WSU’s football program was discontinued in 1986.
More than $100,000 was spent on emergency repairs because of safety issues and a study said the stadium will only continue to get worse and cost more to fix as time goes on.
Boatright said WSU will try to work around the Kansas high school state track and field meet, as Cessna Stadium has hosted around 3,500 athletes for 12 simultaneous state championship meets for the last four decades.
“It’s important to know that if this were to happen, then it would happen in phases and it would be our intention not to displace the state track and field meet,” Boatright said. “It would be our intentions to continue to host the state meet and find a way to work around where we can host the state track meet uninterrupted.”
Bill Faflick, executive director for the Kansas High School Activities Association, said it will be a wait-and-see approach.
“It’s way too early for us to know, but we hope to be able to continue in that capacity,” Faflick said. “Wichita has been a great host, Cessna has been a great venue and Wichita State has been a great partner in hosting the event.”
For many in the track and field world, not just in Wichita but all over Kansas, Cessna Stadium has become a cherished place over the years. It is synonymous with the Kansas high school state track meet where championships are won every May.
“I’ve been there as an athlete, as a coach, as an athletic director, as a meet manager and then as a parent watching my kid run there,” Faflick said. “It started for me all the way back in 1978 and I know a lot more people share even more longevity than I do with that meet. It’s been one of those staples for us, signifying the end to a great school year and the start of summer.
“We’ve had a lot of great memories there and hopefully many more to come.”
The plan would be to tear down the east and west stands, which would allow the WSU track and field team to still practice on the track. Currently their locker rooms are located underneath the west stands, but they are planning on move soon to the Student Athlete Center, which is under construction adjacent to Koch Arena.
The decision to downsize the seating capacity at the stadium would seemingly end any speculation of WSU’s football program returning. The last serious push was made in 2016 by then-president John Bardo, who even released designs of Shocker helmets, but the idea never gained any traction.