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CEDAR RAPIDS — The banner draped on a chain-link fence reads, “Coming Soon.”
Look just beyond the placard, the signs of just how soon can be seen.
Mount Mercy University’s Robert W. Plaster Athletic Complex is beginning to take shape on 22 acres near the campus. The multipurpose facility with baseball, softball and soccer fields and track is expected to be completed and ready for use for the 2017-18 school year.
“It’s wonderful to see it happen,” Mount Mercy Athletics Director Paul Gavin said. “It’s taken a lot of patience. A lot of people have worked hard on it. Lots of work from the community, different folks in development and our outstanding boosters, board members and donors that have been there to make sure this thing happens.”
The $16 million project remains on schedule, holding the groundbreaking ceremony last October. Many buildings have been erected already, including a storage building, press boxes for the soccer and track venues, and softball field with state-of-the-art LED lights.
A building for full locker rooms with showers and large public restrooms has been built between the softball field and track. A natural grass practice field is fenced in, but won’t be available for use until next spring.
The venue will provide a true home for the Mustangs athletic programs. Fans will enter to a large paved plaza with a gate off a path that runs next to the complex.
“We get a true home-field advantage,” Gavin said. “We get an area where, not only is it easily accessible by our community, students and faculty, but also our alumni. It will be a nice gathering place.”
Mount Mercy also will participate in the Jumpstart program during the summer, serving children in Cedar Rapids with a chance to learn through sports.
“It will be a really neat program,” Mount Mercy head baseball coach Jack Dahm said. “We’re partnering with the community.”
The softball diamond, which is adjacent to the poured parking lot has some fencing with dugouts and bleachers in place. Stadium seats have been installed behind home plate that still is marked by an orange stick. The goal is to have turf set in early May.
The track will circle a multipurpose turf field. The field will be used for men’s and women’s soccer, but will be marked for both football and lacrosse, in case the school adds them in the future.
Full field event areas will be on the north and south ends, allowing Mount Mercy to host a track and field meet for the very first time next spring. The track and field stands are in place, seating about 1,110 people.
The track is expected to be completed soon.
“If you’ve been out there, you can kind of see the formation,” Gavin said. “It looks pretty close.”
The baseball field is in the beginning stages, but one set of bleachers positioned. Currently, the Mustangs host games at Cedar Rapids Xavier’s Ken Charipar Field. Dahm said he gets more excited daily, thinking about the future.
“I take a different route to work to see the progress every day,” Dahm said. “It’s going to be a first-class facility. It will help the school and the community.”
Dahm praised the school’s administration for their support of athletics. He has already experienced the impact of the new facility that will be across the street from a planned recreation center, housing coaches’ offices and weight room.
Baseball, along with track and softball, have gained interest from recruits. The new facility has played a big role. Dahm said he already has 19 recruits committed and 15 are from Eastern Iowa high schools, which is a change from the program relying on junior college transfers.
“It has allowed us to keep local kids home,” Dahm said. “I want to build a program by recruiting freshmen, who will be in the program four years.
“We will build a program and not just a team.”
Gavin said the turf for all three fields will allow teams to get outside earlier and even use them later in the year as well.
Dahm said the baseball team spent its first eight weekends of the season on the road. To make things tougher, the Mustangs have had just three outdoor practices, because the elements made him uncomfortable with tearing up Xavier’s diamond.
He also has aspirations to add a junior-varsity team after being limited by facilities in the past.
“Mount Mercy has done it the right way,” Dahm said. “It’s about the student-athletes, students and community.
“Their vision has been great. They hit a home run.”
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