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University Hopes 76-Acre Athletic Campus Ready by Next Fall

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Copyright 2013 The Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Palm Beach Post (Florida)
October 13, 2013 Sunday
FINAL EDITION
LOCAL; Pg. 1B
916 words
PBAU gets home field;
After an eight-year wait, Palm Beach Atlantic University gets its athletic campus.
By Eliot Kleinberg Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
WEST PALM BEACH

Right now, the only sounds are the bustle of nearby construction workers, the "shooom" of traffic on Interstate 95 and the now-and-again roar of a landing or departing commercial jet.

But Bill Fleming hears the nylon mesh of a tennis racket popping a fuzz-covered ball, the crack of a baseball against a bat, and perhaps a public-address announcer excitedly shouting, "Goalll!"

Eight years after Palm Beach Atlantic University bought 86 acres just north of Southern Boulevard, parts of the Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Athletic Campus are nearly done and the school hopes to have students competing here by next fall.

Athletic Director Carolyn Stone has had to borrow high school fields and city parks for her teams.

"Ohhh," she said of the new facility. "It's going to revitalize our program."

At last, Fleming said, "a home field advantage."

Major capital campaign

On a warm afternoon last week, Fleming stood sweating in a shirt and PBAU sailfish tie with a matching baseball cap, surrounded by what is perhaps the largest real estate project underway in the city.

Already, concrete block houses dot the tract. They'll house restrooms, press boxes, training centers and refreshment stands to serve the playing fields and courts.

Fleming, PBAU's president since March 2011, said the private, 3,764-student, 45-year-old Christian college has raised more than $10 million toward an $18 million capital campaign. All but $2 million of it is designated for the athletic campus.

The project received a major boost in 2010 when the Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Foundation gave PBAU a $4 million grant to speed construction. PBAU so far has spent $7 million, much of it on pavement, curbs, landscaping and underground utilities.

Fleming said a year ago that the goal was to open by the end of 2013. He said he was "disappointed" the fields weren't ready in time for the school's soccer teams this fall.

The tennis courts, in green and blue and with blue fabric awnings, are the closest to a finished facility. Fleming said PBAU might do some "soft openings" as fields are ready.

Naturally, Fleming said, he'd love to have his athletics on his downtown campus. But, real estate prices being what they are, he said he'd settle for having it less than two miles away.

"For an urban institution," he said, "having a 76-acre (athletic) campus east of I-95 is miraculous."

PBAU bought the site from Palm Beach County for $3.2 million in January 2005. With the complex devoted just to PBAU use, the college has agreed to transfer a 10-acre rectangle at the northeast corner to the city by February of next year, for a public park and a water playground.

PBAU broke ground for the athletic complex in April 2008. But then the economy tanked and the project stood dormant until fall 2011.

Welcome neighbors

The complex sits on land that once housed the Hillcrest neighborhood. Starting in the late 1980s, residents were forced to sell and their homes were razed because expansion at nearby Palm Beach International Airport created noise and safety hazards. Plans by the county for a golf course never got off the ground. The site's neighbors anticipate project completion with a mix of relief and lingering concern.

"Once you have the facility up and running, it's better than all these years of just having a bare field there," said Janet Kinsella, a retired public information officer for Palm Beach Police and a board member of the Poinciana Park Neighborhood Association.

Jose Rodriguez, president of the Vedado Neighborhood Association, noted that he campaigned for PBAU to come there. "I felt it was a good thing for our neighborhood, the area and the students," he said.

"Are we welcoming them as neighbors? Yes, we are," Rodriguez said. "But PBAU should also look at us as neighbors, and take into consideration that this is an association that has tried to have one of the nicest neighborhoods, and have the consideration to work with us."

"We have, from Day One, been receptive to the input from the neighborhoods," Fleming said.

He added that PBAU's web page on the complex -- www.pba.edu/rinker-athletic-campus -- also will update neighborhoods on its progress, and he hopes to have a neighborhood meeting this fall.

Also, as part of its new presence in the neighborhood, the school established the Parker Avenue Consortium. Through the consortium, volunteer university faculty, backed by both university money and grants, will help teach math, science and engineering, as well as music and fine arts, to students in elementary and middle schools near the athletic complex.

"We're the largest neighbor," Fleming said, "therefore we want to be the best neighbor."

ekleinberg@pbpost.com Twitter: @eliotkpbp

The facilities at a glance

Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Athletic Campus and Community Park, Palm Beach Atlantic University

Location: Between I-95 and Parker Avenue, just north of Southern Boulevard, West Palm Beach

Size: 76.4 acres (plus 12 acres to be deeded to city for a park)

Features: Three lighted baseball-softball fields, five lighted soccer fields, 12-court tennis center, two outdoor basketball courts, two outdoor racquetball courts, two sand volleyball courts, concessions and restrooms

Who will use them: 180 student-athletes in NCAA Division II competition, plus 1,100 intramural participants in flag football, basketball, soccer, indoor volleyball, bowling, "ultimate Frisbee," dodge ball, billiards, table tennis, beach volleyball and racquetball. PBAU hopes to eventually hold summer sports camps.

Source: PBAU

October 13, 2013

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