UW students vote on rec facilities referendum - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UW students vote on rec facilities referendum

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MADISON (WKOW) -- UW-Madison students will vote this week on a referendum that would expand recreational opportunities for students on campus, but comes with a big cost.

UW's Division of Recreational Sports has put forward a $223 million plan to rebuild the two most heavily-used gyms on campus and improve outdoor field sites. The project to remodel the Natatorium and the Southeast Recreational Facility (SERF) will be funding mostly by student fees.

"We are asking students at this point to fund a maximum of 57% of that," says Rec Sports Director John Horn. "We hope that number will actually be lower as we move forward with the project, should the referendum pass."

Fees would increase gradually as construction phases are completed, but in the end students could pay more than $100 more a semester than the $37 fees right now. That estimate could change depending on donor funding, which has yet to be arranged.

Some students, like Ian Malmstadt who is president of Badgers for Recreational Reform and a member of Associated Students of Madison, say it's better to invest in new buildings than put money into ones that are outdated and crowded.

"Right now, we have to shut out a lot of student organizations from using our facilities because there's just not enough space," Malmstadt tells 27 News. "For me, it's about using the money responsibly and in the best way possible."

Horn says if the students turn down the referendum, their seg fees will go up right away to cover repair and maintenance costs on the aging buildings. He anticipates current fees to double in the next five years just for that reason.

Other students say seg fees are constantly increasing, and they can't afford to pay the possible $125 million bill for the new facilities.

"[It's] putting pretty much the bulk of the cost of upgrading the rec sports facilities on the back of the private students when this is a public institution," says Jennifer Keohane, a graduate student member of the Teaching Assistants Association (TAA) in Madison. "We're looking towards the athletic department, for instance, as a large revenue generating department through which there's a lot more sources of funding than there are through our pocketbooks."

The TAA sent a letter to its supporters asking them to urge the university to find other ways to fund the project. In just a day, the effort generated 600 letters to the athletic department.

Keohane tells 27 News the goal isn't to discourage the project, in fact she voted 'yes' Monday morning because she says it's needed.

Another issue raised by the community, is the project eliminates a competition-sized pool on campus. The UW swim teams would no longer be able to hold meets and WIAA organizers say they would likely have to find a new space for state swim meets.

A community group is pushing to find $13 million in private donations for a pool that could be added to the plan. Horn says that's possible at any time, as long as students approve the referendum, but it will have to be funded privately.

UW-Madison aims to raise nearly $60 million in gifts and donations. Students have until Wednesday to vote on the referendum online.
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