Former Baker AD floats indoor activities center
As the longtime former Baker University athletic director, Dan Harris knows how busy the Collins Center is.
Collins is not only the home for Baker’s winter sports of men's and women’s basketball and wrestling, but the school’s baseball, softball, soccer and track teams use the facility for their preseason or off-season conditioning, Harris said.
“Collins opened in 1985,” he said. “It’s not going to last with that heavy traffic.”
Harris said Baker Athletic Director Theresa Yetmar does a great job in making Collins available for the teams and others requesting its use, but he knows from experience it’s a difficult job and getting harder.
Harris thinks he could have a solution, one that would not only help solve Baker’s needs but those of the city, Baldwin City Recreation Commission and Baldwin school district, as well.
Harris’ answer is an activity center with a 50- to 60-yard open space. It would provide a place for Baker teams to practice and provide a venue for the school district and BCRC activities, he said.
With that in mind, Harris started visiting activity centers on other campuses and talking with representatives from the city, BCRC and the school district about their interest in such a facility and their possible needs.
"I've lived here a long time," he said. "I've seen the dynamics of this community really change. We have a young, very active community. Wouldn't it be nice if they didn't have to drive to Lawrence or Gardner to participate in an activity?"
He is now to the point he’s ready to get his idea out for public consumption, Harris said, but emphasizes it is still “conceptual.” That means there are no details, plans or cost estimates.
Nonetheless, Harris does have ideas about some of the things such a facility ought to have. Among those would be a turf surface that could be applied over the floor to make the center available for indoor football, soccer, baseball and softball uses, an indoor tennis feature, a suspended walking/jogging track, and offices for the Baker coaches and athletic department.
Although the city, BCRC and school district would benefit from an activities center, Baker would be the prime driver and carry the load in the cost of the facility’s construction, which Harris said he initially loosely pegged at $8 to $10 million but has since revised upward. It was at this time only a concept with no plans that would help nail down that number, and he has not approached anyone at the university about a fundraising campaign for his idea, Harris said.
As he looked for a site for his concept, Harris settled on the one-square block east of the old school district campus bounded by Fifth, Baker, Chapel and Sixth streets. The Baldwin school district owns the property, which is currently used for youth soccer and baseball.
Superintendent Paul Dorathy said the district has no current plans for the property but held on to it for a future "best use." Should the activity center concept move ahead, it would be the school board’s decision to sell the property to the university or donate the land for the project for future district uses at the activity center, he said.
In addition to its teams using the facility for practice, the school district would benefit from the BCRC having another venue for activities other than school facilities, Dorathy said.
Harris and BCRC Executive Director Steve Friend said an indoor activity center could not only house many of the BCRC’s current activities but open the door to indoor camps for baseball, softball, soccer and tennis, as well as youth soccer leagues. All of those activities have proven popular elsewhere and could entice visitors to the city, they said.
Friend said he has long wanted space so that local fitness gym owner George McCrary could offer more programs through the BCRC and would also like to see some kind of hydrotherapy unit available in the facility.
City Administrator Chris Lowe said it was far too early to speculate on what the city’s contribution might be on a conceptual project. It would be something of interest to the city because of the positive economic development consequences of a facility so close to the city’s two main business corridors and in attracting young people and families to Baldwin City through "community curb appeal," he said
The city also has an interest in helping Baker remain a quality educational institution and having the facilities to attract student athletes to the Baldwin City campus, Lowe said.
He and Dorathy said they appreciated Harris approaching them about the concept and the chance to collectively look at what would be best for the whole community.
Harris suggested the next step would be for a Baker business or marketing class to complete a study on his concept to learn the demand for an activity center.