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Wichita State Planning To Demolish Cessna Stadium

Stephan Bisaha
Cessna Stadium, the home of Shocker football through 1986, will be demolished.

Wichita State University plans to tear down Cessna Stadium.

The Kansas Board of Regents gave WSU permission on Wednesday to demolish the 30,000-seat football stadium, more than 30 years after the school ended its football program.

The stadium is currently best known as the site for the Kansas State High School Track and Field Championships. Billed as the largest high school track and field meet in the country, it brings thousands of athletes from across Kansas to Wichita.

This year’s meet, scheduled for May 29 and 30, was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a report to the regents, WSU said “the stadium is in poor condition” and not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The school says bringing the stadium up to ADA requirements would require significant work.

WSU says it spent more than $100,000 for immediate safety repairs after a 2017 study said work was needed on the stadium’s steel structure.

WSU wants to spend $1.4 million in private funds and restricted fee funds on demolition. The stadium would be razed in two phases, with the east grandstand coming down first followed by the west grandstand. WSU hopes that will allow track activities to continue as demolition takes place. No demolition date is set.

WSU plans to eventually build a smaller multi-purpose stadium on the site that would be suitable for soccer, lacrosse, and track and field events. It would be used by WSU as well as regional youth tournaments.

The regents unanimously approved the request with little discussion.

Regent Jon Rolph of Wichita says WSU “assured us they would not start on project until they had it fundraised and ready to go. This allows them to step in that direction.”

He said the school is consulting with the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) about the future of the state track meet.

"We believe demolition is the best course of action when and if funding sources are identified," WSU athletic director Darron Boatright said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing our relationship with KSHSAA and hosting the state track meet as well as track and field meets for our program.”

The proposed demolition would seem to end all discussion of bringing back Shocker football. WSU suspended the program after the 1986 season. Then-President Warren Armstrong cited ongoing financial problems and community apathy toward the program in his decision.

The program had just three winning seasons in its final 25 years. It endured a devastating plane crash in 1970 that killed 31 players, coaches and boosters.

Credit John Bardo/Twitter/File photo
Then-WSU President John Bardo tweeted this photo of a prototype of a football helmet back in 2016, raising the possibility of Wichita State bringing back its football program. The idea never gained momentum.

Several studies have been conducted since Armstrong’s decision, the most recent in 2016 under President John Bardo. The study said renovations to Cessna Stadium could cost between $21 million and $28 million.

Despite Bardo releasing designs for a Shocker football helmet and marching band uniforms, the idea failed to gain any momentum.

Work on the original stadium began in 1941 with funding from the Works Progress Administration. But it was halted in 1942 because of World War II.

Dedicated to men and women who served in the war, Veterans Field was completed for the 1948 football season, with seating for 15,000 fans, a press box, concessions stands and locker rooms.

The stadium underwent a major renovation in 1969, with Cessna Aircraft providing a major gift.

Tom Shine is director of news and public affairs at KMUW. Follow him on Twitter @thomaspshine.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is a board member of the Public Media Journalists Association, serving as small station representative, a volunteer coach for League 42 and an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.