Note: Our Spring/Summer 1999 Roundup included the original article about Park University. The Progress Report was later added and all was updated in 2011.
A modern-day planner
“Park University is a modern-day pioneer, exploring, expanding and extending its programs,” said Dr. Donald Breckon, president of this 120-year-old, unique college in Parkville, Missouri.
Built among bluffs and wooded hills, Park University overlooks the Missouri River. That, in itself, is not unusual. But buildings constructed largely of limestone mined from below the campus is, and that’s just what Park College has at its home campus.
Other factors contribute to its uniqueness: Park University has one of the most extensive underground campuses of any school in the world. Underground student facilities, carved from solid limestone, include a 48,000-square-foot library and learning center, a bookstore, computer lab, classrooms, the Campanella Gallery, the Morden Board Room, college offices, and a health clinic. The temperature in this developed area steadily holds at a comfortable 70F to 72F degrees.
In addition, Park University is developing its Parkville Commercial Underground (PCU). Located just 20 minutes from downtown Kansas City, PCU is the only underground business complex in the county. When fully developed, PCU will encompass 24 million square feet of subsurface development for businesses, including retail outlets, warehousing, light manufacturing and office operations.
New Sports Event Center
Adding to this uniqueness is Park University’s most recent project, a $3 million dollar Sports Event Center, consisting of twin Monolithic Domes with diameters of 130’ each, flanking a two-story office building of 3,289 square feet. This new Sports Event Center will encompass 31,891 square feet.
President Breckon said, “At the present time, we have an old, outdated and too small gymnasium that only seats 200. We’ve torn away a swimming pool wing, and we’re going to build a dome to house our new gymnasium, with seating for 1000 spectators. Its twin will function as a field house for indoor practice of soccer, baseball, softball, tennis and golf. The office complex between the domes will have snack bars, press boxes, all the usual stuff you put in a recreational facility.”
Intercollegiate sports, especially basketball and volleyball, are very popular at Park University, particularly since some of its teams have attained national ranking. Consequently, a new gymnasium, one that was not only functional and practical, but attractive, quickly became a goal.
Claude English, Athletic Director at Park University, said, "We have twelve sports teams here, using the gym for practice, games and intramural purposes. In the last decade, our men’s and women’s soccer have been very, very successful. Our basketball has become nationally known in recent years. The men’s and women’s volleyball teams are doing extremely well, and our women’s basketball team is really making strides on the national scene.
“We will be doing all of that in the new gym, and we are all absolutely ecstatic about it,” English said.
According to administrators at Park University, the decision to go with Monolithic Domes for their new Sports Event Center involved several factors and included lots of research, but was not really a difficult one. Breckon said that they began looking for structures that would provide some of the same benefits they already enjoyed with what they had, such as comfortable, consistent indoor temperatures, structural strength and stability, and low maintenance.
Research quickly eliminated traditional structures because a traditional design simply could not provide the space and the features Park University wanted and still fit its budget. So they began investigating domes.
“Park University is unique,” said Breckon. “We have the underground, we have all those limestone buildings, and we already have a dome on the front part of the campus. So it’s not like we were strangers to the dome concept.”
Dr. Paul Rounds, Executive Vice President for Administration, said, “We looked at what I call inflatable domes that were hung by tension wires. Those tension wires are temporary and have to be replaced every fifteen years. We just couldn’t get comfortable with that. Then our athletic director brought us information on Monolithic Domes.”
Claude English recalled that meeting. “Once we looked into all the features and the longevity of the Monolithic Dome, I don’t think it had any competitors. Then we actually went to some completed school sites and liked what we saw.”
“It all boiled down to this,” Rounds added. "We found that by using the dome approach, we would end up with essentially twice as much space for the same amount of money. We could get two domes, two playing surfaces plus all the features we wanted, for the price of one playing surface.
But for Athletic Director English, yet another factor was equally important. “My coaches and I like the building time. Normally, we’d be looking at about a year and a half for a project like this. The domes will take about a third of that, with tentative completion scheduled for October or November 1999, just in time for basketball.”
A Progress Report: Events and Activities at Park University
The Unforgettable Graduation
“No one who attended the first graduation at our new Breckon Center will ever forget it,” said Rita Weighill, associate vice president of university advancement at Park University.
The Breckon Center is the university’s newest addition: an ultra modern Sports Event Center, consisting of twin Monolithic Dome gymnasiums flanking an office complex, designed by Architect Rick Crandall and completed in 2000.
“Our December commencement was the first time we ever used the domes for a graduation,“ a truly unforgettable one,” Weighill said. “The domes were new so that in itself was exciting, but then one of the grandparents of our graduates had a heart attack. Fortunately, our security people were able to administer CPR and get his heart going again. That gentleman visited us a few weeks later, in much better condition and very grateful. So, we have some very good memories associated with our Breckon Center.”
Sports – a big thing at Park
Its men’s and women’s teams compete in the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) in basketball, volleyball, soccer and softball.
The teams use the dome with two courts as a Practice Gym. Its twin, the Performance Gym with its 1000 spectator seats, hosts competitions and special events.
Asked how he likes the domes, Athletic Director Claude English said, "Well, I’ll be honest with you. There’s not much at all that I dislike. The actual facility is wonderful. You always look back and think about storage and things of that nature, but the actual facility, the office space, the locker rooms, the gyms, they’re all very good.
“Normally, when you get into a dome situation the acoustics are pretty bad,” English continued. “But in our Performance Gym they’re really good. We put in special acoustical material and we will do that in the Practice Gym too.”
Coaches love the Practice Gym
According to English, he and the coaches appreciate the Practice Gym as much or even more than the Performance Gym.
He said, “We now have a facility to practice in. No more cancellations because of bad weather. It’s wonderful because we have terrible winters. It’s been a dream come true. I think we’re all very proud of and excited about the facility. All the coaches are really impressed.”
What visitors think
“People look at the two domes and they’re a curiosity that piques their interest,” English said. “But when they get inside, they get really impressed. Almost all the visiting coaches have asked for more information on the domes. The feedback has been very positive.”
The daily routine
As for the day-to-day operation and maintenance of the facility, Rusty Nachbar, plant operations and maintenance manager, said, “It’s great. All is going well. We had to go through an adjustment period. At first we got the inside of the domes too cold, then too warm. Now it’s set just right and it’s easy to maintain. The domes are an oddity in this area, but a welcome addition. They give Park a good home court advantage.”
A formal dedication
In February 2001, Park officially dedicated its Breckon Center. English said, “We tried to make sure that all our sports teams were in town for this dedication. So we actually began playing in the domes before the dedication, just couldn’t wait.”
The dedication, held in the Performance Gym, was attended by the mayor of Parkville, Park University’s board members, all of its teams, faculty and staff. Along with companionship, good wishes and good food, attendees looked at photos and memorabilia commemorating Park’s 126-year history. Included in all that reminiscing were fond, happy discussions of that first, unforgettable graduation at their Breckon Center.
Click here to download a PDF with full color photos of the finished school.