Editors' note: In March 2014, students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison approved a $223 million referendum to overhaul the campus recreation facilities, badly in need of improvement. Since then, the recreation program has been busy planning, fundraising, vetting architects and much more. As the project progresses, Alex Peirce, UW-Madison Rec Sports Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications, will be offering an inside look at the process of coordinating such a monumental planning effort.

Rec Sports Master Plan: for the students, by the students

As you set foot on any college campus, the faculty will tell you that their students are totally unlike those at any other school. Each school offers a unique culture that attracts unique students who have a unique way of doing things. I have found this to be true, as the University of Wisconsin-Madison is now the third campus where I have worked with such a special group of students.

When I accepted a position at UW in 2013, I was introduced to a shared-governance system that includes students and gives them the ability to make significant decisions related to university operations. But I didn’t have a full grasp of the students’ influence on campus until we began the campaign for new recreational facilities.

A few months before I moved to Madison, Rec Sports director John Horn was approached by students from the Associated Students of Madison and asked to reopen a master plan for recreational facilities. Students recognized that our facilities were severely overcrowded and lagging behind national standards. Though building new facilities would likely require an increase in student fees, the students considered it a worthwhile investment to create opportunities to play hard, get fit and live well, and ensure that future generations of Badgers have the same (if not better) access to facilities and programs.

With student support, we embarked on a nearly two-year process that has led us to where we are today: in the middle of designing new outdoor playing fields and nearing the end of the architect selection process for our flagship facility, the Southeast Recreational Facility (affectionately known as the SERF to all Badgers). I can confidently say that this project has continually moved forward because of our engagement and inclusion of students.

The student voice has guided many major decisions throughout our process. Students submitted the initial request, weighed in on desired amenities, analyzed project scope and formally approved an increase in student fees with a referendum vote in 2014. We engaged students during presentations, on social media, on our blog, in personal conversations and in meetings. Student feedback helped reshape our campaign message and compelled us to downsize the project scope only a few months after it was initially proposed.

I look forward to sharing our engagement strategies, project updates, challenges and roadblocks, and success stories on this blog. I am hopeful that our experiences may help inform projects on your campuses, at your corporations or in your communities. Check out my next post about how we passed a $223 million project with a grassroots budget of less than $1,000.


Alex Peirce joined UW-Madison Rec Sports in 2013 as the Division’s first professional marketing staff member. Read more about Alex on the UW Blog Page