The excitement around Purdue Calumet campus is apparent. What began as an idea several years ago is about to become reality.
Hammond's Dowling Park and Purdue Calumet's athletic department are about to get a major improvement — a facelift that school and municipal officials say will benefit everyone in the community.
A ceremony was held Monday to break ground for the new Hammond/Purdue Calumet Outdoor Athletics Complex at Dowling Park, a $6 million project being undertaken by Gough Construction.
The new athletic complex, just off of Kennedy Avenue in the Hessville section of Hammond, will be the home for Purdue Calumet baseball, softball, soccer and tennis teams. The fields will feature synthetic turf, a rarity outside of football fields in Northwest Indiana. The plan is to complete the baseball, softball and soccer fields by August for the 2014-15 school year. The tennis courts will come later.
Purdue Calumet has added 10 sports teams to the athletic program over the last four years, six of which will play at the new complex. With growth like that, a state-of-the-art facility was needed as the university plans to step into the NCAA Division II ranks, Athletic Director Rick Costello said.
"It's the next step for our program," Costello said. "If and when we move forward to NCAA Division II, we've got to have facilities to recruit the caliber of athletes. Kids want to go to schools that have athletics as a vibrant part of the university."
The city of Hammond does not have a large-scale sports complex capable of holding multiple athletic events. When the Peregrines are not playing, it will be the site of community baseball, softball, soccer and tennis tournaments.
"The city and university hope that this sports complex will be unique and should attract many people to events hosted by the university and the city," Purdue Calumet Chancellor Thomas Keon said. "My hope is that it will be an economic stimulus to the Kennedy/I-80-94 interchange."
When Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. was elected in 2004, he said he feared that Purdue Calumet was trying to step away from the city.
As Purdue Calumet is an important economic engine for the city and one of its biggest employers, he said the two entities have forged a strong bond, and that the new sports complex will continue that bond. McDermott noted a $6 million investment will only raise the property values in the surrounding Hessville neighborhood."
"I could tell you as mayor I've seen Purdue Calumet make a lot of investments in the city," McDermott said. "It's an important part of our city. It's not just athletics. Chancellor Keon is a pro-Hammond guy. He's making decisions to help our city."
Costello expects the fan turnout at the new sports complex to blossom over the next few years, boosting the interest in Peregrines athletics.
"It's the type of place you will want to come and watch a ball game," Costello said. "It's accessible, close and the type of thing that can only help PUC continue to flourish."