February 25, 2014 3:00PM
It was as much a celebration as a ceremony Tuesday when officials gathered on the Pittsburg State University campus to turn the first symbolic shovels of dirt for a new indoor event center.
As dignitaries turned shovels and confetti rained down, PSU officials lauded the project as one that demonstrated the power of cooperation.
“Today’s groundbreaking is about more than the construction of a facility,” said PSU President Steve Scott, “It’s a celebration of the incredible partnerships that this university shares with its community, its students, its alumni and its donors. The strength of this university lies in these relationships and you see the results every time you walk onto this campus.”
As evidence of that cooperation, the president pointed to work underway on the nearby Center for the Arts and both the Kansas Technology Center, opened in 1997, and the PSU Student Recreation Center/National Guard Armory, opened in 2009, to the east. All of those projects, he noted, and others on campus were the result of combined efforts of various government agencies, donors and students.
“Where others see obstacles, Gorillas see opportunity,” Scott said.
Pittsburg Mayor Michael Gray echoed President’s Scotts sentiments.
“There’s something special about the relationship that the city of Pittsburg and Pittsburg State University share,” Gray said. “Like all relationships, its strength is based on mutual respect, open communication and a belief that no obstacle is too high or dream too big if we work together.”
Taylor Gravett, president of the Student Government Association, said PSU students have always shared a special relationship with the community as well as the university. He pointed to the 1914 Russ Hall fire, when students came out to help battle the fire and 1922, when students helped raise the funds for construction of what is now Carnie Smith Stadium.
“In 2012, when we were asked to support the most ambitious capital investment project in Pittsburg State University’s history, we responded with overwhelming support,” Gravett said. “I’m proud that we answered the call and have helped lay the foundation for the next generation of Gorillas.”
President Scott used the groundbreaking ceremony to announce the name of the new facility and honor the naming donor, the late Robert W. Plaster.
“It is with great pleasure that I formally announce that from this day forward, the facility behind me will be known as the Robert W. Plaster Center,” Scott said. “This gift (from the Robert W. Plaster Foundation) has helped us reach our goal and the end result will be a facility that will serve our campus and our community for generations to come.”
Dr. Dolly Clement, executive director of the Robert W. Plaster Foundation, said her father would have been proud to be associated with the project and to have his name on the event center. She said that when her father funded the Robert W. Plaster Foundation in 1983, he had one goal in mind.
“He wanted to help as many students as possible,” Clement said.
She added that her father also believed in the free enterprise system.
“Dad would want you to know that the American Dream is still alive in this country,” she said.
Fred Logan, chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents, congratulated the university and the community for working together on the project.
“Today is a great day for Pittsburg State University, the city of Pittsburg and the region,” he said, “but is also a great day for the state of Kansas. Through partnerships like this, Pittsburg State University is becoming a powerhouse in the state of Kansas.”
In his remarks, President Scott thanked a long list of people for their work over a number of years to make the indoor event center and related renovations to John Lance Arena and the Weede PE Building possible. He singled out alumni Alan and Roberta Whetzel, who were responsible for a recent major renovation of John Lance Arena, for special recognition.
“They, in essence, started it all,” Scott said. “Without their vision for what John Lance Arena could become and their financial support for making it a reality, we would not be here.”
The John Lance Arena renovation required the removal of the university’s indoor track, a move that was supported by PSU Track Coach Russ Jewett, who was willing to do without an indoor track, President Scott said, “betting that we could pull this project off...”
That faith was rewarded recently when the NCAA announced that PSU would be the host site for the 2016 and 2018 Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track Championships.