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First significant renovations to Ramer Field set to begin with lighting, field turf in ‘09

October 9, 2008

UW-River Falls will begin renovations on Ramer Field prior to the next football season by installing new lights, which is the start of a $3.5-4 million project.

“We hope to have the lights put in by next football season,” UWRF Athletic Director Rick Bowen said. “That’s an aggressive and strong wish.”

With a large contribution from the David Smith family, the First National Bank of River Falls and $500,000 from UWRF student fees, $1.2 million has been raised. Bowen asked the Student Senate for $1 million from students, but only received the $500,000.

The new lighting will be the first phase of the renovations that will also include field turf, an artificial surface similar to grass, which is expected to be installed prior to the 2010 football season.

Installing brick around the stands and expanding them would be the next phase. Also included would be replacing the press boxes and installing restroom facilities. Landscaping around the stadium would follow the next year. The estimated cost of the final phase is $2 million.

The current lighting at Ramer Field has not been touched since the 1967 season and there are no more lighting accessories to repair them, so the only way to improve them is to put up new ones. The cost of the new lights is $225,000.

The field turf, which is used at all WIAC schools besides UW-Superior and UW-La Crosse, would cost $750,000. Superior is the only WIAC school that does not have football. La Crosse will have field turf installed later this fall and its home games are being played at Winona State University, which has field turf.

“With the lights and new turf, there’s so much more you can do,” Bowen said. “Intramurals doesn’t have to end at dusk and we don’t have to worry about the football field being torn up at the end of the year.”

River Falls High School plays its home football games at Ramer Field. At the end of the year, the field can be a tough surface to play on, UWRF sophomore wide receiver Michael Zweifel said.

“By the end of the year it’s really beat up,” he said. “When it gets cold out, it’s really hard to get traction. It would be an amazing atmosphere for fans to watch the game too.”

Even with the initial cost being expensive, maintenance will cost less in the long run, UW-Stout Athletic Director Joe Harlan said in a telephone interview.

“When you get it in, you don’t have to worry about watering the field or re-chalking it,” he said. “If [UWRF] put it in, all WIAC schools will have it in place. It’s becoming the standard now to have it in. If you can afford it, you get the money back over time.”

If there is rain the night before a soccer or football game, the field is a mess to play on and the field turf has been an asset, Scott Kilgallon, athletic director at UW-Eau Claire, said in a telephone interview.

“After rain, a grass field is just mud,” he said. “The turf has been fantastic.”

Eau Claire would be limited to holding an average of 22 events on its grass field, but when the field turf was installed in 2004, Kilgallon’s first year as athletic director, it has been able to hold 80-100 events. The total cost of the field turf was $800,000, Kilgallon said.

The renovations are needed at UWRF because it has fallen behind other WIAC and Div. III schools in the Midwest, Bowen said. “We have the worst facilities in the Midwest at our level,” he said. “This is long overdue.”

UW-Whitewater Athletic Director Paul Plinske agreed.

“No question about it,”Plinske said in a telephone interview. “You have to have the support from within. You cannot get anywhere if you don’t have the institutional support. It’s time for the folks of River Falls to step up.”

Whitewater has received $4.4 million from students in the past four years for athletic facilities on its campus. David and Lolita Kachel also donated $1.5 million in May for an athletic complex on the Whitewater campus.

Other schools are getting the support and UWRF needs it, Plinske said.

“They’re getting help from within,” he said. “It’s time now for [UWRF] to get it.”

The support Whitewater has from its students and the community has brought success to its athletics, Plinske said.

“We believe there’s a direct correlation to the facilities we have built and the success we have had,” he said. “River Falls is in a location close enough to Minneapolis and Madison where they should be able to attract more students and student athletes.”

Eau Claire students got the city on board by donating $300,000 for its athletic facility upgrades, Kilgallon said.

There have been “minor” upgrades to Ramer Field, but it is not entirely noticeable, UWRF football coach John O’Grady said.

“People recognize when your University cares about certain aspects of your athletic program,” he said. “If you go to Ramer Field, does it look like people care about it?”

A problem that could occur is recruiting athletes at UWRF, O’Grady said.

“It goes back to what is our image, what do we want to be,” he said. “Do people believe athletics is important when the look at that stadium? If they do, you are not going to be able to get the same kind of recruits.”

The Kansas City Chiefs have their training camp at UWRF and play on an artificial surface in Kansas City, similar to the one that is planned for Ramer Field. The Chiefs front office personnel have given advice to UWRF on its renovations, Bowen said.

“If UWRF currently had the $3.5-4 million, the project would have been started.”