Baseball JSU

Construction of the new baseball stadium for Jacksonville State University is at this stage, as shown Tuesday afternoon. The green structure on the right is a batting cage over home plate. Fans seated in this section of the stands will be facing, in the distance, Houston Cole Library and Pete Mathews Coliseum and the hills beyond.

JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State’s newest stadium won’t be finished in time for baseball season in February as expected, but the university’s planned student recreation center is still on target to open next year, university officials learned Tuesday.

Inclement weather has delayed completion of the $10.3 million stadium until late March, requiring the baseball team to start its season on city of Oxford fields. Meanwhile, construction is on schedule for JSU’s $44.9 million campus wellness and fitness center — considered a key part of the university’s plan to better compete for students and increase enrollment.

The JSU board of trustees reviewed the projects during their regular quarterly meeting Tuesday. The main meeting followed a series of smaller committee meetings the board held Monday.

Construction of the new 1,000-seat stadium began in March and was previously set to finish in time for JSU’s first home game on Feb. 16 against Southern Illinois.

Greg Seitz, JSU athletics director, said a combination of excessive rain, unseasonably low temperatures and recent snow had delayed construction.

“We worked with the city of Oxford about the availability of their fields and the city has been fantastic working with us to accommodate us,” Seitz said.

JSU played all its home baseball games at Choccolocco Park in Oxford last year because of the stadium’s construction.

Seitz said he fully expects baseball games to be played at the new stadium starting in early April.

“We know that in the long run, the benefits of taking our time and getting the stadium right is worth the wait,” Seitz said.

However the university’s larger ongoing capital project, the two-story, 100,000-square-foot fitness and wellness center, is still set to open in January 2019 as first planned. Construction of the center began in August.

The project will be paid for with a new $190 per semester student fee once it’s open.

“It’s imperative that our team be on top of it and it’s done right and on budget,” Ronnie Smith, board chairman, said of the center. “This is an important project.”

John Beehler, JSU president, said the center is a critical part of the university’s plan to attract students.

More students means more money for JSU, which relies on tuition for more than 60 percent of its annual revenue.

Improving enrollment has been a top priority for Beehler since his hire in 2015 — the same year JSU enrollment hit a 15-year low after five straight years of decline. Enrollment has grown the last two years. JSU had 8,567 students enrolled in the fall.

“This brings up to speed with our competitors,” Beehler said of the center. “It will help us in recruiting and retaining students, giving them more things to do.”

Beehler also said during the meeting that the university was undertaking actions laid out in the university’s five-year strategic plan to grow enrollment. Such actions include hiring a coordinator to help with student retention, simplifying the admissions process for international students, and overhauling the university’s marketing campaign.

“We’re doing everything we can to grow enrollment,” Beehler said.

 

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.