“If they come, we will build it.” That’s Chancellor Kevin Eichner’s variation on the famous movie line, which is taking real-life shape on 13 acres of land in Surprise, Ariz. It is there that two years ago Ottawa University pounded a stake in the dirt and began laying the foundation for a brand-new residential campus some 1,200 miles from its 154-year-old main campus in Kansas.
Recruitment kicked off at Ottawa University-Arizona (OUAZ) in February 2017 before any major construction had begun on the new campus. From a single building — and with only a vision of what OUAZ could be to share with prospective students — admissions recruiters and Athletic Department coaches set to work on their goal of bringing in 250 students for its first semester of classes. When the doors opened in August 2017, 434 new students walked through them.
“It’s really quite amazing what we were able to accomplish, all things considered,” Keith Johnson, chief operating officer at OUAZ, said. “Not only did we surpass our initial enrollment goals, but we did so by recruiting students to 13 acres of dirt and air. We asked them to use their imagination, and then we made them a promise that we are proud to be keeping.”
The first part of that promise was OUAZ’s own version of a “field of dreams” built for its student athletes, who in the first year made up the majority of the university’s new enrollment. Spirit Field, a $3 million competitive athletic field for football, soccer, lacrosse, and ultimate frisbee, opened in October 2017. The state-of-the-art playing field was built to NAIA/NCAA standards, and features AstroTurf’s Astroflect technology and Musco LED lighting that are similar to what is used in the NFL.
“Spirit Field is iconic in representing the future of OUAZ,” Johnson said. “The field is a centerpiece, and our future growth will surround it.”
Johnson said this is already happening. With three major construction projects currently in progress, the landscape of OUAZ is rapidly changing. These projects, which are outlined below, are the O’Dell Center for Athletics, the OUAZ student union and a residence hall.
The O’Dell Center for Athletics: This $25-million, 97,000-square-foot athletic complex is being built by Haydon Building Corp. adjacent to Spirit Field to the west, just north of Tierra Buena Lane. The complex will include a recreation center, four-court gymnasium, locker rooms, an athletic training room, the Spirit Performance Center, five classrooms, and faculty and athletic department offices. The press box for Spirit Field is also part of the new complex, which is slated for completion on or around Oct. 1, 2019.
OUAZ Student Union: This two-story, 27,000-square-foot building, developed by Phoenix-based NOVO Development Group, will house the cafeteria with indoor and outdoor dining space, the Spirit Fan Shop, campus mailroom, student lounge with indoor/outdoor fireplace, conference center and designated quiet study spaces. Plans are for this $7-million facility to open in August 2019 prior to the start of the fall term.
Residence Hall: A 76,000-square-foot, four-story residence hall to the east of Spirit Field is also being constructed buy NOVO. This 83-room, 332-bed dormitory is the first of the on-site housing buildings planned for the campus, and will feature fully furnished, four-person suites, four student lounges and the campus security office. It will be located on four acres adjacent to the community greenspace OUAZ shares with Surprise City Hall. The $20-million project is scheduled for completion in November 2019.
Chancellor Eichner said the progress of these construction projects are a testament to the support the University has garnered in the Valley of the Sun. He describes Ottawa’s new residential campus as “an overnight success seven years in the making.”
“We are thrilled to be at this stage of our exciting new campus in Surprise,” Eichner said. “Our partnerships with the City of Surprise and NOVO Development are exemplary and give us great confidence in the impact these first-class facilities will have on our rapidly growing student population.”
Dennis Tyner, vice president and provost at OUAZ, said momentum has been building since the new residential campus was announced in February 2017.
“The place is abuzz with activity, and the sights and sounds of new construction all around us are joined by the brisk movement of students between classes, practices and activities,” Tyner said. “Our leadership team has worked tirelessly to bring this wonderful new campus to fruition, and we are thrilled by the reception of students, parents, and the community at large.”
The current phase of new development at OUAZ encompasses 13 acres of land on the north side of Tierra Buena Lane. The next phase, in keeping with the University’s enrollment goal of 2,500 to 3,000 students at OUAZ in the next 10 to 15 years, will be to develop another two acres on the north, as well as 20 acres of land across the road to the south. Beyond the initial 35 acres, conversations are underway to acquire additional land for future development.