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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin)
Madison - The state's flagship campus is at the bottom of the Big 10 in space devoted to student fitness, but that could change if students agree next month to pay higher fees toward what campus officials say is a much-needed $223 million expansion of recreational facilities.
University of Wisconsin System Regent David Walsh noted during a Board of Regents committee meeting Thursday that raising segregated fees is a hot-button issue, as rising tuition and fees have been blamed for escalating student debt. Student fees pay for recreational facilities, residence halls, dining facilities and student activities.
The UW System froze tuition system-wide this academic year and next year under orders of the state Legislature after it was revealed that campuses together were holding hundreds of millions of dollars in cash balances while raising tuition and fees the past several years. In fact, the UW System had $1.68 billion in cash and cash equivalents in fiscal 2013, including $91.1 million in unspent tuition revenue.
Many of UW-Madison's recre- ational facilities were built decades ago, when the campus had 25, 000 students, John Horn, director of the Division of Recreational Sports, told the regents during a meeting at Union South. The flagship currently has 43, 275 students, including 29, 504 undergrads.
Recreational sports facilities are both crowded and dated, Horn said, noting that 83% of students participate in wellness, fitness or intramural sports activities on campus. That's 1.7 million annual uses.
Ohio State University has the most fitness square footage for its students - about 49, 000 square feet - compared with UW-Madison's 15, 000 square feet, Horn said.
UW-Madison students currently pay $36.78 per semester in support of the Division of Recreational Sports; the Big 10 average is $145.06 per semester, Horn said. UW-Madison students pay a total $565 in segregated fees per semester, including the rec fee. Student fees for rec sports would increase by no more than $108 per semester if students vote in favor in the referendum March 3 to 5, Horn told the regents. That would bring UW-Madison to the Big 10 average. If the student fee increase fails, Horn said, fees would still have to more than double to cover repairs to outdated facilities, including roof replacement and plumbing issues.
The proposal calls for student fees to cover 57% of the $223 million total cost. The state would cover $30 million; gifts would contribute $56 million and the athletics department would cover $7 million, according to Horn. Work on the Near West Field and Southeast Recreational Facility (SERF) would begin in summer 2016 and be completed in summer 2019.
The Natatorium - a fitness center with a competition pool - would be the second facility expanded, with construction proposed to begin in 2019 and be completed in 2021. The Near East Field expansion would be completed in summer 2022.
Swimming program in flux The university's competitive swimming program is in flux as a result of the plans.
The Rec Sports master plan initially included a 50-meter competition swimming pool and diving well, but that option was contingent on students funding at least $13 million of the total $26 million cost. Other sources, including private funds, would have to cover the remainder.
UW Athletics officials say athletics is not in a position to fund the other half of the cost of a competition pool at the SERF.
A unique arrangement allows the UW swim teams to use the Natatorium for a competition pool and the SERF for practice. As part of the master plan, the Natatorium pool will be taken offline in 2019.
The Athletics Department has agreed to support the swimming and diving programs by making a financial commitment to maintenance and a substantial upgrade of the practice pool at the SERF, according to the university.
Faculty pay adjustments In other business: The business and finance committee discussed a report on faculty and staff base salary adjustments and lump sum payments system-wide in fiscal 2012 and 2013.
In fiscal 2012, UW chancellors reallocated $19 million (0.89% on a total $2.14 billion payroll base) for base salary adjustments for 3, 315 (9.9% of the total) staff. In fiscal 2013, the chancellors reallocated $33 million (1.55% on a $2.18 billion total payroll base) for base salary adjustments for 7, 235 (21.3% of the total) staff.
A total of 376 individuals (1% of all staff) received a base salary adjustment in both fiscal years.
Faculty and staff also are eligible for lump sum payments for additional work performed beyond what is normally expected.
In fiscal 2012, UW chancellors reallocated $18.6 million (0.87% on a $2.14 billion payroll base) for lump sum payments. In 2013, the amount was $23.6 million (1.09% of the $2.18 billion payroll base).
Regent Gerald Whitburn reminded UW officials that salary adjustments outside the state pay plan must be transparent in the budget.
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Copyright, 2014, Journal Sentinel, All Rights Reserved.