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The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)

UW-Madison students will vote in March on a proposed $200 million in facilities improvements that could nearly quadruple the recreational sports line item on their segregated fees statements, from $36.78 per semester to $144.78.

The Student Service Finance Committee voted last week to approve a student referendum on a proposed campus master plan for recreational sports facilities, which will occur March 3-5, during the spring election for Associated Students of Madison, the official campus student government group.

John Horn, director of UW-Madison Recreational Sports, said that the $108 per semester fee increase is a "worst case" scenario, depending on how much money for facilities improvements the university receives from the state and how much is raised through private fundraising.

Even so, the increase would put the UW-Madison fee at just under the $145.06 average per semester fee at Big 10 universities, Horn said.

The plan to go to referendum includes renovating the SERF (Southeast Recreation Facility), 715 W. Dayton St.; upgrading the Near West Fields, rebuilding the Natatorium, an indoor sports facility with a pool at 200 Observatory Drive; and upgrading the Near East Fields, in that order.

No designs can be drawn until referendum passage and approval from the state and the Board of Regents, Horn stressed. But conceptual plans to be put to referendum call for expansion and updating of facilities, none of which meet current standards for collegiate recreational facilities, he said.

The SERF would include three times the current fitness space, courts for basketball, volleyball, badminton and racquetball and a new indoor track.

The new Natatorium would include more fitness and track space, courts for basketball, volleyball, badminton and racquetball, a recreational and instructional swimming pool and an ice rink.

The new Natatorium would not have a competition-size swimming pool, and the SERF would be renovated around the current pool, which means that the competitive swimming and diving teams would continue to lack a site to host meets on campus, Horn said.

Student fees for the improvements would increase step-by-step as each project is undertaken, up to the possible max of $144.78 per semester in the 2020-2021 school year, he said.

University and UW Hospital faculty, staff and their spouses or partners may now use campus recreational facilities for a $200 annual membership fee, Horn said. He anticipates that fee will rise, too, with the facility improvements.

"I can't foresee a situation where it would stay the same while student fees rise," he said.

The Nielsen Tennis Stadium, 100 Highland Ave., and University Bay Fields also would be improved as part of the master plan, but they would be funded through private donations and no student fees.

David Vines, chairman of the Student Service Finance Committee, said that while it's hard to predict whether students will support the steep increase in fees, prospects look good.

Unlike a failed referendum to renovate and expand the Natatorium in 2010, there is no organized opposition to the current master plan, Vines said. And with 83 percent of students using recreational facilities, it's a project that affects many students, he said.

The Recreational Sports division has been very careful in its use of student fees, "and it shows when you look at the facilities we have now," Vines said. He said he is impressed at the how officials have been "very intentional" in developing the master plan to meet student needs without costly extremes.

Student Service Finance Committee member Justin Bloesch anticipates the referendum is likely to pass, given the poor condition of the current facilities.

But the maximum fee increase would add up to more than $800 over four years, when in full effect, he said. That may not mean much in the scheme of things for students whose parents are paying the bills, but "for students who are paying their own way, that's enormous."

And for the 50 percent of students who leave UW-Madison with debt, that extra $800 may well translate to much more when interest is added.

"Who wins and who loses depends on who is on their own financially," Bloesch said.

 

December 19, 2013
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