This year's edition of the Kansas Relays could be the last at Memorial Stadium.
The University of Kansas received approval from the Lawrence city commission Tuesday to begin construction on a $39 million complex west of campus that will include a new track and field facility along with a soccer-specific stadium and softball park.
Preliminary plans for "Rock Chalk Park" call for a track and field stadium with 7,000 permanent seats and room for 3,000 temporary seats. The new facility would mean the existing track could be removed from Memorial Stadium, where the Jayhawks play football.
"As we move forward in our capital campaign, we can focus our attention on two premier projects — the completion of the renovation of Allen Fieldhouse, which we know is our crown jewel, and the renovation of Memorial Stadium," Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger said.
"Why is that important?" Zenger asked. "We live in a day and age of conference realignment. We have seen in recent months that it continues to bubble and percolate. We cannot afford at this time to sit back on our hands and have a stadium that does not reflect the commitment to big-time college football. If that's how we are perceived, we could rue the day that we didn't act when we had the opportunity to act."
The Kansas Relays, which began in 1923, annually draw one of the nation's top fields to the school's campus. Kansas is one of the few schools in the nation that still has its track inside the football stadium, something that went out of vogue years ago.
School officials hope to have the new track and field complex completed by spring 2014, and Zenger said the goal is to build a facility capable of hosting national championships.
"Track and Field is back at Kansas," he said. "If we give them one of the top tracks in the nation, can you imagine what we can do here at the University of Kansas?"
The new soccer stadium will seat 2,500, while the softball facility will seat 1,500.
Zenger said those upgrades are part of a decades-old Title IX review that found Kansas to be far behind rival institutions in providing proper facilities for its women's programs.
"This is just an unbelievably golden opportunity to get that corrected," he said. "Even if we weren't under review, even if Title IX weren't involved, the right thing to do is to build facilities for those young women in soccer and softball that are equal to their peers.
"Many of our fans and Lawrence residents aren't able to travel around the county with us as we compete, or even around the region in the Big 12," Zenger said. "If they could, they'd see that in these sports we are woefully behind. It's hard for me to say that, but its reality, and that's why we're building these tremendous facilities."
The Kansas athletic department plans to work with the KU Endowment Association and Bliss Sports to build the facilities. Under terms of the partnership, the school will be able to spread the $39 million cost over 30 years.
"This is great day for Kansas Athletics," Zenger said. "This will address longstanding needs that we have been trying to fill for well over a decade, and probably should have addressed as many as 20 years ago."