Western Carolina trustees approve plan to upgrade and improve athletics program

CULLOWHEE — Western Carolina University’s board of trustees approved a comprehensive funding plan Wednesday (Dec. 1) to upgrade facilities and improve the university’s intercollegiate athletics program.

The plan includes $7.9 million for substantial improvement of athletic facilities, and $350,000 to address health and safety issues for athletes, gender equity and competitiveness.

“This is as significant an infusion of dollars directly into Western’s athletics program as there has ever been,” board chair Adelaide Key said. “However, the importance is not in the new facilities. The importance is to the students who compete at the NCAA Division I level and to improve the quality of their collegiate experience.”

A 17-member athletics task force, chaired by Ken Wilson of Waynesville, was appointed by Chancellor John W. Bardo in August to conduct a comprehensive review of WCU’s intercollegiate athletics. Although its full report is not expected until January, the task force delivered an oral interim report to Bardo in October.

“In reviewing the athletics task force’s recommendations, my primary interest is in the experiences and welfare of our students,” Bardo said. “While it is fashionable to talk about athletics as if it is separate from the university, the fact is that every person who puts on a Purple and Gold uniform is one of our students.

“We must be concerned as a university that we provide opportunities for these students to have a positive experience and have the opportunity to graduate. I believe the actions of the board of trustees today go a long way to achieve our fundamental goals for our students,” Bardo said.

Major funding sources in the facilities plan will be $5.7 million in revenue bonds, backed by a $54 per year increase in the athletic facilities debt service fee; $1 million in increased fund raising; $1 million from the university’s stadium reserve fund; $350,000 from a $60 per year increase in the university athletics fee; $200,000 in sponsorship funds. and additional funds from campus vending operations.

The largest items on the facilities improvement list are $3.3 million for the construction of a new soccer and track complex, $1.5 million for a two-phase construction of west stands for E.J. Whitmire Stadium, and $1 million for replacement of the artificial turf on Bob Waters Field.

The new running track/soccer field complex, to be located on the site of the current track, includes complete replacement of the track, a new soccer field in the track’s infield, lighting, locker rooms for men and women, a 1,200-seat grandstand, restrooms, a concession and storage building, and a footbridge across Cullowhee Creek.

Phase I of the E.J. Whitmire Stadium project provides for a 624-seat grandstand on the west (visitors) side, restrooms and a concession building. Walks, plaza, and site utilities are included in the first phase.

Phase II calls for expansion of the west stands to between 3,700 and 4,000 seats, replacing the west side lighting, and site development.

The playing surface on Bob Waters field, installed in 1987, will be replaced with state-of-the-art artificial turf and sub-surface.

Other projects involving athletic facilities:

— Tennis complex improvements including repair and replacement of courts, new lighting, a 600-seat grandstand, shared restrooms and concessions with track/soccer complex, and site development ($585,000).

— Baseball complex improvements including lighting and field refurbishment, drainage, and irrigation ($488,000).

— Expansion of weight room facilities at Jordan-Phillips Fieldhouse, including a 3,400-square-foot addition and renovation ($418,000).

— Refurbishment of locker room areas in the Ramsey Center ($66,000).

— Conversion of unfinished space in the Ramsey Center into meeting and storage rooms ($62,000).

— Refurbishment the Ramsey Center laundry room ($45,000).

— Training room improvements in the Ramsey Center ($44,000).

Expenditures from the $350,000 derived from the increase in the athletics fee will be used for basic uniform and equipment needs; funds to bring support for women’s sports in line with comparable men’s sports; and funding for scholarship support, adequate travel and recruitment budgets, increased staffing for training rooms, and maintaining competitive coaching salaries.

In women’s sports, funding will be used for coaching salaries, operating expenses and scholarships, with emphasis on women’s basketball, soccer and volleyball.

Athletics task force chairman Ken Wilson, a former chairman of the university’s trustees, said his group voted unanimously to support the proposed facilities upgrades and to endorse the increase in student fees. “Although we were only at the interim stage of our review, we felt the needs and deficiencies were urgent and demanded attention at the earliest possible opportunity,” Wilson said.

Bardo said the funding proposal came before the board at the December meeting to meet approval timetables for student fees. Western trustees consider proposed fees in December, forward proposals to the General Administration of the University of North Carolina in January, and the UNC Board of Governors acts on the proposals in March. Approved fees become effective for the 2000-2001 year.

Projects for Phase I of the Whitmire Stadium’s west stands and the replacement of the artificial turf on Bob Waters Field were approved at the November meeting of the UNC board, and selection of designers will begin immediately.