CLARKSVILLE -- Students at the University of the Ozarks and other residents of the region can expect to enjoy new baseball, softball and soccer fields that will come as parts of a planned athletic complex projected to cost about $10.75 million.
The private, four-year liberal arts university announced in a news release it will start construction on the facility in October. It will be built where the university's current baseball, softball and soccer fields are and include new turf fields on all three playing surfaces, along with new lighting, bleachers, locker room, press box and bathroom facilities.
Richard Dunsworth, university president, said about 35% of the school's student body wants to play in intercollegiate athletics. The university competes at the Division III level of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, with soccer, baseball and softball being the three largest programs.
Dunsworth said the school knows it needs to invest and improve its facilities for these sports to ensure students can have a competitive and rewarding experience.
Jimmy Clark, the university's athletic director, said some of the current athletic facilities are "tired," which makes it difficult for the university to recruit students. He believes the new athletic complex would help put the university on a level playing field with the teams with which it competes.
"I'm looking forward to the experience of not only just for athletes, but for nonathletes that want to come out to the venues and have a little fun and watch a game, so I'm very excited about the whole process," Clark said.
Clark said the university hopes the new complex will allow it to host some high school regional, state and district tournaments.
Steve Houserman, economic development director for Clarksville, said he thinks the quality of life and opportunity to enjoy recreation and entertainment the new complex will bring to not just Clarksville, but the River Valley region, will be "huge."
"Bringing in some of these other students from other campuses to compete here at home in Clarksville opens up a whole lot of possibility for our small community," Houserman said.
"Those visiting teams that are visiting our restaurants and eating before they get back on the road with their families here in town, we capture some of that tax revenue. Overall, it supports the local economy in that way."
Houserman, similarly to Clark, said the complex will also provide an opportunity to attract new talent to the Clarksville area.
Dunsworth said the university created a 20-year plan for all academic, residential and co-curricular spaces its Board of Trustees adopted in April 2017. The university has been making facility upgrades and renovations -- along with constructing new facilities -- in accordance with the plan as it's been able since that time.
In terms of athletics facilities, the university first opened the approximately $2 million Alexander-Boreham Tennis Center about four years ago, according to Dunsworth.
Mammoth Sports Construction -- a firm headquartered in Meriden, Kan. -- will build the new athletic complex, according to the university. The softball and baseball fields are expected to be finished by February ahead of the spring 2024 seasons for those two sports while the soccer field will be ready for competition come the following fall.
The university is also set to transition from competing in the American Southwest Conference to the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference beginning in the 2024-25 academic year, the news release states.
Dunsworth said Thomas and Frances Wilson of Tulsa, Okla., who were long-time friends of members of the Board of Trustees, contributed a $6.2 million gift for the project. The university is actively working with alumni and others around the world to raise the rest of the money it needs to finish out the project, which amounted to about $3 million as of Wednesday.
The university has fully funded the athletic complex's softball and baseball facilities with the money it has now, Dunsworth said. Trustees could treat both of these elements and the planned soccer facility for the complex as either three separate projects or one comprehensive project.
"It's very likely that we will move forward with softball and baseball while we continue to fund-raise," Dunsworth said.
Dunsworth said anybody wanting to financially participate in the project should reach out to him or Clark.
The softball and baseball complex part of the overall athletic facility will be named after the Wilsons in their honor, the university said. The baseball field will continue to be named Lonnie R. Qualls Field.
Larry Isch, director of university and media relations, said the name of the soccer field will be determined during the fundraising process.