Ahearn Field House stays: just with a new look

The track inside Ahearn Field House. (Benjamin Voller | Collegian Media Group)

Guests are hit with strong feelings of nostalgia immediately after walking into Ahearn Field House, Casey Lauer, Kansas State University associate vice president of facilities said. Visitors are transported into a 1950s old school short-shorts basketball game. 

Ahearn really speaks to who we are and this institution, and we are not knocking Ahearn Field House down,” Lauer said.

Ahearn will soon stand alone, as Ahearn’s gymnasium and natatorium will be demolished, Lauer said. He said the university spends over $300,000 a year in operational expenses on Ahearn’s gymnasium and natatorium.

“The gymnasium, it’s functional, but in terms of its actual utilization, it’s not really worth the operational costs when we have other options both at k-state and in the community,” said Lauer.

The natatorium will be the first of the buildings to be torn down, followed by the gymnasium in the summer months of 2024. 

“When the [natatorium] and gym get knocked down, this will really accentuate Ahearn,” said Lauer. “So we really want to do something special with it.”

Ahearn was built in 1951 and hosted the K-State men’s basketball team until 1988, following the construction of Bramlage Coliseum, Lauer said. Now the indoor track and volleyball team use the facility to host sporting events and for practice. 

“Athletics is in the process of building a new indoor volleyball center, and they are also planning for a new indoor track facility,” Lauer said. “Really when those two projects are completed, Ahearn Field House itself is a great opportunity for something different.”

Katie Heinrich, professor and interim department head of kinesiology, said demolishing the gymnasium and natatorium will affect the kinesiology department.

“The impact on our current students could be the loss of the gym for research and applied fitness classes,” Heinrich said.

The kinesiology department already moved to Justin Hall in preparation for the demolition, and the kinesiology research labs will move to the Lafene Health Center. Fitness classes will be held at the Chester E. Peters Recreation Complex, Heinrich said.

The demolition of the gymnasium will also impact K-State facilities, staff and community members, Heinrich said.

 “Our department has had a noon-time fitness program since the 70s. We’ve had people that come and use the track and other facilities for 30 years,” Heinrich said.

One of those community members is Terry Mason, an associate professor in accounting. Mason plays “noon ball” a game of pick up basketball. He said he has been playing for eight years alongside other staff and faculty members. 

“It’s a big staple here on campus,”  Mason said. “People who come into campus even when they’re interviewing for positions, they come and play noon ball.”

The group of 40 men play at the Ahearn Gymnasium every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to relieve some stress and exercise in between their work schedule. 

“Not every job has the opportunity to walk right outside your building and up the street, and you’re playing basketball,” Mason said.

People from the community use the Ahearn Field House to play basketball. (Gwyneth Davidson | Collegian Media Group)

Jeff Grove, K-State volleyball associate head coach, has played noon ball since he started at the university in 1998. 

“It started off with a lot older faculty and a smaller group of people,” Grove said. “In the last 10 years, it’s kind of blossomed into days where we get three full courts of players up here.”

Mason said the group is worried that their 25 year tradition of playing noon ball may come to an end.

“If they tear Ahearn down, we are going to have to move to some other facility, and I’m afraid that we are going to lose the comradery that we have here,” Mason said. 

Grove said he is sad to hear the news but understands why it has to happen.

“I understand from an economic standpoint that to maintain this building the way it is, it’s expensive,” Grove said. “They’re not going to keep something like this just for a group of people that want to play basketball.”  

Although no official plans have been announced, Lauer said there are discussions of how they will reutilize Ahearn.  

“We would do our best to make that a student-focused center in some fashion,” Larson said. “We want it to be utilized and for the benefit of the students.”

Lauer said it is an extensive process to decide if a building needs to be torn down.

“It’s never easy to take buildings down,” Lauer said. “Ultimately, something has happened in that space, or there is a name associated with the building that just ponders up emotions or feelings. This isn’t something that we have taken lightly.”

Lauer said he wants to reassure the public that Ahearn will not be demolished under President Linton’s tenure at K-State.