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D-Day approaching for HHP facilities

March 8, 2007

On Monday while most UW-River Falls students and staff will be relaxing and enjoying their spring break, government powers in Madison will be making a decision that will dramatically impact the future of UWRF.

Chancellor Don Betz, Campus Planner Dale Braun and Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Mary Halada, will be in Madison for the March 12 higher education subcommittee meeting, which serves as the initial hurdle for UWRF to receive state funding for a new health and human performance facility.

If the proposal passes the March 12 subcommittee, it must then be approved by the State of Wisconsin Building Commission March 19, and then must also be approved, along with the state budget, by Gov. Jim Doyle.

Despite all the hurdles, administration, students and faculty are doing everything they can to get the project approved.

“This is the No. 1 facility priority of this institution,” Betz said. “It’s been before four biennia. We are resolute for the project to go as planned and build this new facility.”

The estimated cost for the new facilities, if it is accepted into the 2007-09 capital budget, is almost $40 million. Nearly $6 million has already been allotted to the project, $3.8 million was raised from an increase in segregated student fees that was approved by Student Senate in 2000 and the UW-River Falls Foundation promised $2 million.

The longer the project is delayed, the more it will cost due to inflation. The cost has already increased nearly 25 percent since it first was recommended for planning and subsequently shot down by the state legislature in 2001.

Student and faculty support

There has been a massive undertaking to show how important upgrading the HHP facilities is to UWRF.

“For us, right now, in this building, this is a make or break time,” Athletic Director Rick Bowen said. “We have to convince the powers that be of our needs. If anybody in Madison would come and take a look at what we have, that would speak for itself.”

As evidenced by more than 1,700 petition signatures supporting the new HHP facilities project, many on campus see the need for an upgrade.

“I think we have a better case to get this done than anybody else in the state,” Betz said.

Aside from the petition, many students and faculty members have written personal letters and called legislators to show support for the new facility. Some of those letters were also hand delivered to the offices of legislators in Madison, along with brochures, which outline the need for an upgrade.

“If you can personalize this and have faculty and students write personalized letters, I think any good public servant pays attention to that type of thing,” Bowen said.

This is a contrast in the approach the University had previously employed.

“In the past we might have sat back too much and said ‘please choose us,’” Bowen said.

On Feb. 28, UWRF students Kurt Blomberg, Stacy Dekkers and Katie Leisch delivered the petitions to Wisconsin legislators.

“We were certainly received well,” Leisch, who is an HHP double major, said. “Many told us that what we were well on our way and doing exactly what we needed to be doing. They most certainly knew of the project and often said they had been receiving calls and letters from other students, faculty and staff in the days previous.”

A long time coming

The Karges Center was built 50 years ago with the needs of a student body of 1,500.

“This is an educational building that has seen its day,” Bowen said.

With the overall student body now surpassing 6,000, the amount of space Karges provides doesn’t meet the need of students. 

“Every touring visitor that I have accompanied through the facility has been surprised by how inadequate it is,” Betz said.

That’s the way Karges has been seen by faculty for more than a decade. The University officially recognized this in 1994 after an analysis was conducted by the HHP department.

“I was on a committee in ‘94-’97 and we were told we’d be moving into a new building in ‘06,” Bowen said.

A number of reasons played into why the move hasn’t come to fruition, and those involved in this latest effort are resolute in not repeating avoidable mistakes.

“The economy played a major role,” Bowen said. “[Plus] I don’t think we lobbied near hard enough. The time has come where we gotta quit being so nice. We’re sitting here in the largest growth area in Wisconsin. People that make these decisions need to be convinced what a viable entity we are.”

Current state of facilities

When those involved in UWRF health and human performance program speak about the classrooms and labs in the Emogene Nelson Center and Karges, the term inadequate is used repeatedly.

“There is something definitely wrong when labs for courses like biomechanics and exercise physiology have to be held in a hallway,” Leisch said. “There becomes a point when the nature of the facilities become embarrassing. How is the HHP department/major supposed to be taken seriously? It is time to make a facility that meets the standard of academics, students and faculty that UW-River Falls prides itself in having.”

The Emogene Nelson Center originally served as a food service facility and was granted to the HHP department in 1983.

“We have done a pretty good job of taking what we have and making it functional,” Bowen said. “How long can that continue before you say enough is enough.”

The Karges Center gym is outdated, which has led to a number of complaints.

One of the most troubling aspects of the gym is the hardwood floor, which is built on a concrete base, increasing the wear and tear on athletes who practice and play on its surface.

“We have an inordinate number of back and leg injuries,” Bowen said.

Some current players have felt the wrath of the antiquated playing surface.

“Back in high school I never really had any [injury] problems,” men’s basketball player Rory Trimbo said.

After practicing at Karges for two years, he has now developed a bad lower back, shin splints and wears braces on both knees.

“My body is feeling really down already after two years,” he said. “I don’t know if I can do it a third year. My body feels so old ...”

Trimbo had the opportunity to survey other arenas in the conference and says Karges is “probably the worst. The gym obviously needs to be re-done.”

Another issue with the gym is ventilation. In the summer when UWRF serves as the host to summer camps for multiple sports, temperatures are often “unbearable,” Bowen said.

Another problem is the pull-out bleachers. Due to design flaws, spectators can’t sit in the front row and moving from their seats can be difficult.

“For anybody over 65, it’s unsafe,” Bowen said.

The basements of Karges and the Emogene Nelson Center are referred to as dungeons.

“When I first came here in 1986 I would not even bring basketball recruits down here [Karges] because it was so bad,” said Bowen, who served as head men’s basketball coach from 1986-2006.

The basement underwent renovations 15 years ago that Bowen estimated cost $7,000.

“When they did this, they got a lot of bang for their buck,” Bowen said. “I don’t know what we would have done if they wouldn’t have remodeled this.”

Bowen personally undertook remodeling the men’s basketball locker room, installing flooring, lockers and a television.

“It’s still a dump,” Bowen said. “But everything considered, it’s not bad.”

To magnify the problems in the basement of Karges, a water main broke in the laundry room Feb. 17. The room is “the most used room in the building,” Bowen said.

“I have to offer at least two two hour practices a day,” Henderson said. “And we can only do certain things [during practice].”

Hope for the future

Even though attempts to get the HHP facilities upgraded in the past have failed, Betz is very confident this time around; the need is so great that it can’t be ignored.

“It is woefully unable to meet the needs [of students and athletes],” Betz said. “Even more importantly it’s the most dilapidated of the facilities in the WIAC.”

HHP department chair Faye Perkins said she believes geographic reasons may have had something to do with the failure of past efforts, but there is a reason for optimism this time around.

“I think that UW-River Falls always has an uphill battle because of our distance from Madison,” Perkins said. “It’s getting harder and harder to ignore us because of the growth we’ve had.”

With almost half of the student body involved in intramurals or enrolled in HHP courses and 10 percent of the student body either majoring or minoring in HHP, the state of the current facilities affects more than just athletes.

“The standard of academics and output of promising individuals in the workforce is high and is only becoming higher and higher,” Leisch said. “We are already behind in reinforcing this standard through our facilities and cannot afford to lose any more ground.”

If the funding for the new facilities is approved, the new facilities wouldn’t be ready until approximately 2011, yet this doesn’t stop current students from wanting to do a good deed for future generations.

“I won’t benefit from it,” Trimbo said. “But hopefully others can benefit from a better learning environment.”

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