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Ramer facelift in the works

December 7, 2006

Imagine yourself in the bleachers cheering on the UW-River Falls Falcons. The wind is chilly and obtrusive, the lights are dim and obstructing your view, and the concessions available are less than desirable.

That image is about to change with major renovations to Ramer Field. Instead of wind blowing constantly across the field and bleachers, 250 trees will be planted around the perimeter to add a break in the stream and improve the overall aesthetics of the stadium.

But the plans for the revised stadium call for much more than landscaping.

When it is complete, the bleachers will be enclosed in brick with an elevator inside to make the press box handicap accessible. The lights will be brightened and moved behind the stands, and the grass will be replaced with artificial turf. The new press box will stretch the length of the bleachers and offer a comfortable place for the athletic department to entertain alumni and other guests who may be interested in making donations to the school.

“You have to spend money to make money,” Athletic Director Rick Bowen said, adding he hopes to promote more alumni participation and donation by showing them a good time in the new press box.

This renovation comes with a high price tag: $3 million. Students and taxpayers are not footing the bill; it is the University Foundation and private donations that will fund every penny to cover the total cost.

“All money must be in the bank before construction can begin,” Campus Planner Dale Braun said. “Not just pledges.”

The timetable for this project changed significantly with a sizable donation from a local source. First National Bank of River Falls donated $500,000 to the University Foundation for the project.

Before the large donation, the timeframe was uncertain, but Bowen has high hopes to perform a groundbreaking ceremony during the UWRF homecoming game in the 2008 season.

The building stage of the project is still a fair amount of time away, but Bowen insists it is important to get students, staff and community members excited about what the renovations will bring to the University and the community.

“It’s about image, it’s about community,” Bowen said. “This is a first-class university in a first-class city with a third-class athletic facility.”

The renovations will improve the look of the stadium completely while offering more versatility.

The athletic department and University Foundation hope to build the new stadium and draw in more players and fans. With an updated facility, it is possible to host a wide array of events and offer a better atmosphere for players and spectators.

“Compared to our sister universities, ours [stadium] looks really bad,” Braun said. “It even comes down to school pride.”

Aesthetics aside, the addition of artificial turf will keep Ramer up to par with the rest of the UW System. UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout, UW-Platteville and UW-Oshkosh have installed artificial turf and now have the ability to use their stadiums for soccer, concerts, band competitions and other events that go beyond football. UWRF lacks the ability to do any of these things with the outdated field.

Ramer Field was built in 1969, and updates have been meager ever since. In the 1970s a small locker room was added to the south end of the field, and a public address system was the last of additions completed no more than five years ago.

In the UW System, all other universities except UW-Stevens Point have updated their stadiums or have a plan in the works to do so. Yet Ramer Field remains with amenities similar to a small-town high school stadium with worse lighting, Bowen said.

“We rarely, if ever, have taken recruits right out to our stadium while they are visiting campus,” Falcon football coach John O’Grady said. “It would be a detriment to do so. We don’t even have running water in our press box. I’ve been using the bathrooms in the press box at most of the other stadiums in our conference for almost 30 years.”

A Dec. 1 meeting was held with an architect to discuss the proposed project and get a better idea of the funds needed and opportunities available.

O’Grady will be thankful for the running water and bathroom facilities that are now a part of the plans for the press box. It will be worthy of visiting alumni and prospective players when it is complete.

Ramer Field is now being used for UWRF and River Falls High School football, but it is also used by the Kansas City Chiefs during the summer for training camp. While inhabiting UWRF, the Chiefs use Ramer for practice.

As of last week, the Chiefs had not been approached for donations or help in funding the project, and Bowen is not relying on the organization’s help.

“We only have one-year contracts with the Chiefs,” Bowen said. “There are three other universities in Missouri willing to build the team its own facilities.”

The Chiefs have a large presence during the summer in River Falls, drawing a plethora of outsiders to the small town and bringing in business for local commerce.

Updating Ramer Field would be a good way to encourage the Chiefs to continue using River Falls as a practice camp, Bowen said.

“I want to emphasize this is a community project,” Bowen said. “The University is doing this, but the community is really going to benefit from the renovations too.”

Bowen became the full-time athletic director April 1 after serving UWRF as basketball coach for 20 years. He is the driving force behind the Ramer Field renovation project and spends half his time working on it.

“I’m using 40 to 50 percent of my time raising money,” Bowen said. “I just want to leave here a better place than I found it.”

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