MOUNT VERNON – Dr. Henry Spaulding began his speech on a rain-soaked Monday morning with one word: competition.
On the field behind him, the Mount Vernon Nazarene University president explained, a facility will soon be built that will foster athletic competition. The $2.7 million soccer and lacrosse complex will house five full-size grass fields, as well as a state-of-the-art turf stadium.
But it will also symbolize competition on a larger scale. The facility will also allow Mount Vernon to compete with – and potentially surpass – communities of similar size when it comes to recreational amenities.
“I stand here today grateful for the community where we are – for the people that partner with us, for those who join in our mission – and the privilege it is for us, to be a part of what’s going on in this community,” Spaulding told the donors and community leaders who gathered for the facility’s groundbreaking ceremony. “We join you, and you join us, in a way that other communities wish they had.”
The soccer and lacrosse stadium will be one part of a $20 million collaborative effort between MVNU, Mount Vernon City Schools and the City of Mount Vernon, aimed at transforming the campus area just south of downtown. The complex will sit next door to Mount Vernon City Schools’ new field house and bus maintenance garage, and will be easily accessible from an extended Yellow Jacket Drive. The city plans to spend $6.8 million to improve the Mount Vernon Ave. bridge, adding bike lanes and multi-use trails to increase accessibility between the school district, university and Kokosing Gap Trail.
These projects are all scheduled to take place over the next year. Once completed, local officials believe the initiative will boost the city recreationally and economically.
As university leaders spoke about the benefits of the new soccer and lacrosse stadium on Monday, backhoes beeped in the background. Mount Vernon City Schools’ field house project is now underway, and MVNU’s stadium won’t be far behind. According to James Smith, VP for university relations, construction is scheduled to begin within the next couple of weeks.
The project will be broken up into two phases, Smith said. Phase 1 will include excavating and re-seeding the field on the north edge of MVNU’s campus, just west of Cougar Drive. Turf, a scoreboard, fencing and lights will also be installed. The five grass fields and one turf field will be ready for use by Sept. 2, although Smith said lights will likely not be installed until Sept. 29.
Phase 2 will take more time. It will add the following amenities to the turf stadium: seating for 500 spectators, training rooms, locker rooms, a concession area, patio seating, restrooms, a press box, a picnic shelter/pavilion and a parking lot.
The university hopes to complete this phase – and thus, the project in total – by fall 2020.
“It’s pretty ambitious,” Smith said, “but if we have enough partners come along then we’ll get there.”
With the help of generous community donors, MVNU is close to achieving its fundraising goal for the project. It will cost $2.5 million to fund the stadium’s construction and $200,000 to fund “Community Fields,” or the five grass fields that will be suitable for competitors of all ages. The university has received a $1.25 million match for the stadium and $100,000 from the Knox County Foundation for Community Fields. As of Monday, $694,000 had been raised to meet the stadium’s match.
With $656,000 to go between the stadium and Community Fields, Smith said MVNU felt comfortable breaking ground Monday.
“We’re hoping getting going on this will give people the energy and momentum to help us finish off Phase 2 of the project,” Smith said. “Phase 2’s pretty key, even for the Community Fields, because that’s where the restrooms will be located, concessions will be located, all of those things.”
The sooner MVNU reaches its fundraising goal, the sooner it will be able to complete Phase 2 of the project, Smith said. Until then, MVNU will likely pull bleachers from its old field to accompany the turf field and patrons will be asked to use temporary restrooms.
Once completed, MVNU’s new soccer and lacrosse facility will become home to local teams at all levels. MVNU’s soccer programs will play their home games at the stadium in the fall, and the university’s inaugural varsity lacrosse team will do the same in the spring. Mount Vernon’s high school soccer teams will also play at the stadium, as part of an exchange that will allow MVNU to use the school district’s eight-lane indoor track at Community Field House.
Local youth teams will also use the fields, and MVNU will be able to host soccer and lacrosse tournaments that will attract families from far and wide to Mount Vernon.
“I eagerly look forward to the day I’m driving by on a Saturday, and I look over there and I see children from the YMCA and other places competing on that field,” Spaulding said. “That will symbolize our collaboration at a very deep and positive level.”
Smith told the crowd Monday that MVNU views athletic expansion as a “key part of our enrollment strategy right now,” and having a standout facility to host the university’s soccer and lacrosse programs fits within that mission. The university has long sought an upgrade from its current grass field, which has been used by all soccer and (formerly club) lacrosse teams for practices and games.
Discussions of building a new soccer and lacrosse complex began eight months ago, Smith said, when he first sat down with Mount Vernon City Schools superintendent Bill Seder to discuss potential partnership opportunities. That grew into conversations with the city and eventually the Ariel Foundation, and the project gained public support from there.
“215 days later, we have a lead gift of $1.25 million. We’ve raised $794,000 towards that match,” Smith said Monday. “It has been an incredible eight months.”
Along with the Ariel Foundation, some of the project’s lead donors include First-Knox National Bank, Mark Ramser, the Knox County Foundation and the MVNU Board of Trustees. Smith believes the project will gain more widespread support once people realize how it will impact the community as a whole.
“A lot of people, I think, are still figuring out this collaboration – the fact that this is part of a larger collaboration including track and field facilities over at the high school, and them using our soccer stadium,” Smith said. “So when people see that this bigger than just MVNU, more and more people are stepping up and helping us.”
Monday was a landmark day for MVNU. University officials, project donors and community leaders watched as the ceremonial first scoop of dirt was turned – and history was made. Never before had the university pledged to build on the vast plot of land on its northern border. In the coming months, that will change.
“Can you just envision how different this is going to look? How full this is going to be?” Smith asked the crowd as he pointed toward the field behind him. “For a long time at MVNU, we haven’t been quite sure what we’re going to do out here, right? [We were] limited what we [were] able to do and there have been different ideas thrown around… I feel like Dr. Spaulding has really empowered us to go with a vision that not just benefits MVNU, but is going to be incredible for our community.”