Spalding University plans to break ground this fall on a $5.5 million athletic fields project that officials hope will be ready to host softball matches early next year.
The university will build the complex, which will include two soccer fields, a softball field and a locker room/storage/concessions facility, on 7.4 acres at the western edge of the Limerick neighborhood.
Officials from the institution and from the local chamber of commerce said they expect the project, on a vacant industrial lot, would aide student recruitment, improve the community and campus cohesion and spur more investments.
The project is part of a $30 million capital campaign that includes campus beautification, a renovated library, $6 million in scholarship funds and the creation of a restorative justice program.
The campaign is the largest in the university’s history, said Rick Barney, chief marketing and public relations officer. The institution has raised about $25 million toward the goal. No tuition dollars are going toward the project.
Barney said the athletic fields would help the university recruit more students — 42 percent of its incoming freshmen in the fall were student athletes — but they also would serve as a gathering spot for area high schools clubs and community groups.
“We do want this to be a positive gathering spot for youth,” he said.
Barney said the fields’ proximity to the university’s campus, which is three blocks east, meant that students engaged in athletics would spend less time — and money — traveling to other venues and spend more time on campus, which would enhance the campus atmosphere. And the university will save about $15,000 in lease and transportation costs.
Eventually, the project also may help the university move from the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference to the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, which would reduce travel time and expenditures. SLIAC includes many teams from the St. Louis area, about a four-hour drive away, whereas Heartland counts among its members Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, about a three-hour drive away; Franklin College, about two hours; and Hanover College, about an hour. Barney said that while leaving SLIAC is not an active goal, switching to Heartland also would mean the university’s teams would play more within the institution’s recruiting footprint.
Barney said for the university, the athletic fields groundbreaking would mark the culmination of an effort that began long ago.
“It’s been on the wish list for quite a number of years,” he said.
Spalding is a private, nonprofit university affiliated with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. It counted 2,322 students in the fall. About 80 percent come from Kentucky, and about 71 percent of undergraduates are women. The institution offers more than two dozen degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral level.
The area for the athletic fields, between Eighth and Ninth streets to the east and west, and Kentucky and Breckenridge streets to the south and north – has been vacant and previously housed construction equipment maker Dover Industries and the old E.W. Huber used car lot.
Kent Oyler, president and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc., the local chamber of commerce, hailed the investments because it would create jobs and foster economic development.
“The Spalding University project is going to bring new life to what is currently a blighted, vacant lot. Investment to revive neglected areas is good for business in Greater Louisville,” Oyler told Insider via email.
“Projects like this one can change the attitude and outlook for the neighborhoods surrounding them,” he said. “It is a win-win for Spalding University, Simmons College and the residents living nearby. Once developed, it is possible this project will inspire even more investments in the Western Louisville.”
Bert Griffin, the university’s chief advancement officer, told Insider that the athletic fields and scholarships account for about a $11.5 million of the $30 million project. Another $1.2 million helped pay for the restorative justice program. Griffin said the university hopes to offer a minor starting this fall, and a major in the fall of 2018.
The campaign also is paying for greening projects in various locations that cost between $750,000 and $1.5 million. The university is leading one of the largest greening projects south of Broadway, Griffin said.
The university received the bulk of the $6 million in scholarship funds from a federal grant. The largest gift came from a foundation that asked to remain anonymous, Griffin said. The James Graham Brown Foundation provided $500,000 toward the restorative justice program.
The various aspects of the campaign have prompted university leaders, including board of trustees member and Metro Councilwoman Angela Leet, R-7, to step forward to champion the projects. The board of directors, for example, has led fundraising for the library improvements, which included gutting the first floor and removing the stacks of books to offer students work areas. Griffin said that students told university officials that they keep getting assigned group projects but had no areas where groups could work together efficiently. The library’s first floor now resembles a retro coffee shop, he said.
Spalding plans to complete the library project by 2020, which will mark the institution’s 100th year in the SoBro neighborhood.