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Student leaders at UW-Madison say athletic department officials did not disclose the full picture of their plans for campus facilities when students threw their support behind a March referendum that approved a $223 million upgrade of recreational sports facilities.
No one mentioned at the time that the Camp Randall Memorial Sports Center, better known as the Shell, might be closed for reconstruction at the same time the Southeast Recreational Facility, the campus' main recreational sports facility known as the SERF, would be closed for a rebuild, says David Vines, chair of Association Students of Madison's Student Services Finance Committee.
But university officials are talking now about not just a reconstruction of the Shell, but the transfer of the facility to the athletic department, said Vines.
"We agreed to put the referendum on the ballot with the agreement that we would have the Shell for overflow space," Vines said last week. "Then a little over a month ago we were informed that UW athletics is interested in acquiring the Shell space as early as 2017."
Reconstruction of the SERF will begin in 2017 under the timeline published by the Division of Recreational Sports in the weeks leading up to the referendum.
Loss of access to both the SERF and the Shell would mean students would have no indoor running track or recreational ice rink available to them and would lose 60 percent of available basketball courts and 60 percent of fitness space, students calculate. It also would affect intramural sports, they said.
No decision to transfer the Shell from recreational sports to athletics has yet been made, Darrell Bazzell, vice chancellor for finance and administration, said last Friday.
"At some point it is going to need to transfer. It needs a major renovation, there's no doubt about that," he said. "And athletics would like to have it at some point to enhance its track program. They are taking a look at the facility, looking at it hard to make sure we don't waste dollars to patch the place up. That's what we're discussing."
If the Shell, which has been open for use by students and the public, is transferred to athletics, that department will have exclusive use of the popular facility, Bazzell said.
Athletics has developed a plan for its needs and what it would like to do with the facility, Bazzell said. The poor condition of the Shell, located at 1430 Monroe St. adjacent to Camp Randall Stadium, means an evaluation must be done of the cost effectiveness of any interim repairs needed to keep it open until 2019, when the rebuild of the SERF is scheduled to be completed, Bazzell said.
Meetings are ongoing among affected parties, including students, Bazzell said.
"No option that is under consideration would completely close the Shell for the two years the SERF is under construction," Bazzell said. "If we did go forward, it could be phased out in a way that minimized the impact on students during the school year."
Vines said students had a productive meeting with Bazzell and Bill Elvey, associate chancellor for facilities planning and management, about ensuring that the Shell would remain as accessible as possible to students.
"Administration is pushing athletics to accommodate the students if the 2017 timetable is adopted," Vines said. Students oppose that timeline, however, and urge that the reconstruction of the Shell not begin until 2019, he said.
No student funding would be used to renovate the Shell, said Bazzell, adding that the athletic department would need to raise money to cover the as yet unspecified cost of the project.
News of developing plans to transfer the Shell to athletics is emerging just as the university announced it would be able to add a new, $26 million competition-sized swimming pool to the SERF. A new pool was not included as part of the master plan that went to referendum because its cost would have pushed student fees beyond what students were willing to accept.
But on May 7, the university reported that athletics had agreed to make a substantial financial commitment to help fund the pool.
"Athletics has always been a good campus partner, and I'm pleased we are going to be able to assist with the development of this pool," athletic director Barry Alvarez said. "We have good fundraising momentum, but we still have work to do."
The new pool will allow UW-Madison to host intercollegiate swimming meets and allowed for increased recreational swimming and water sports. It will be funded by $13 million from athletics and $13 million in increased student fees approved in the referendum.
The contribution by the athletic department is a sharp turn-around from the position expressed before the March referendum. In the weeks leading up to the vote, the Teaching Assistants' Association complained that athletics was not kicking in enough for the recreational facilities rebuild, which would quadruple student rec fees to $145 per semester. Athletics should pay half the campus cost of the project, the TAA suggested.
Athletics just can't afford it, was the response.
"UW athletics stated publicly last month that it has just completed four facilities projects that cost about $125 million," associate athletic director Justin Doherty said in February. "The athletic department does not have unlimited resources and is not in a position to assist with the funding of the proposed rec sports master plan at the level being mentioned" by TAA. The department at that time had pledged $7 million to the project.
Bazzell said a competition pool at the SERF was always on the table and there were always talks about athletics finding a way to support it. Athletic department funding for a new pool in the recreational sports' SERF facility has no connection with the possible transfer of the rec sports Shell to athletics, Bazzell said.