The Illinois State University board of trustees voted unanimously on Saturday to allow the athletic department to conduct an $ 11.5 million domed indoor training facility.
The inflatable will be erected on the current ISU football training ground north of Horton Fieldhouse. ISU athletic director Kyle Brennan told administrators at a special meeting that the nearly 79,000 square foot facility will provide bad weather coverage for football, baseball, softball and the soccer.
The board’s approval came amid protests from union representatives on campus over the lingering pay issue involving graduate assistants and complaints about low wages being paid to other ISU employees.
The addition of the indoor workout space will help relieve the pressure of programming for the use of Horton which, according to Brennan, is used every day of the week, from 5 a.m. to midnight.
Currently, Horton Fieldhouse supports academic programming and other activities for the entire campus community, most notably campus recreation, school of kinesiology and recreation within the College of Applied Science and Technology. , ROTC and university high school.
The new practice center will be funded by ticket sales and other funds raised through sports department revenues such as merchandising of sports clothing and equipment, as well as private fundraising that has already reached $ 7 million, Brennan said. Administrator Bob Dobski asked about supply chain issues and whether these could increase construction and labor costs.
Dan Stephens, vice president of finance and planning, assured Dobski that an external estimating company had been used to calculate construction costs and, based on estimates received from suppliers over the past few weeks, costs are lower than forecast. He said material is available, but the $ 11.5 million includes “a healthy contingency.”
Administrator Rocky Donahue asked for clarification that no public money would be spent on the project. Stephens responded by confirming that no state money would be used.
“When we have the private funds raised, we’ll be good to go,” Brennan said after the meeting.
Construction will not begin until funding reaches $ 8 million (70% of construction costs). Then, the trustees will have to authorize the financing of the project; which will be voted on once the final offers are received. The project requires a bond of $ 9.8 million over 20 years, combined with $ 1.4 million in unspent sports facility bonds from the Redbird Arena seating renovation project, and an additional $ 165,000 from other sports department resources.
Brennan said the roughly $ 350,000 to $ 400,000 needed to maintain and operate the facility each year will be funded by renting out to the community on nights and weekends when not in use by ISU Athletics.
“We know there is a great need for indoor space in winter. So for us, this is a great opportunity to bring the community to campus, because they are future Redbirds, not just athletes. We really want to partner with the community to make it possible for everyone who needs it to come and train, play and compete in our space, ”said Brennan.
He said a feasibility study found that the facility should be rented 40% of the time available to cover overhead costs, adding that he believes there is more than enough demand from the community to meet. this threshold.
Workers protest against low wages
Ahead of the vote, Trevor Rickerd, a PhD holder from the School of Biological Sciences, said he chose to skip graduation to attend the meeting as a union representative for graduate workers to brief administrators that despite a recently concluded contract with graduate assistants, the negotiated salary increases are not being enforced.
“What I learned recently is that the university has decided not to give the appropriate funding to the following departments where these increases are going to go, so that those departments can do what they have to do – pay the people at the right rates and hire enough people to do the work needed at the university, ”he said.
Without funding to support the salary increase for teaching assistants, Rickerd suggested that workforce issues impacting other parts of the university will continue to impact academic fields. .
“People will go elsewhere because wages increase elsewhere. The workers realize that their work is worth something to this university, ”said Rickerd, while saying that the university’s recently improved credit rating has been achieved, in part because the workers are underpaid.
After highlighting the $ 11.5 million spent on sports facilities, Rickered asked administrators, “Where are our priorities right now as a university? Seriously. What’s the story here? He added, “Do the right thing.”
The comments followed complaints from other unionized workers, including a local representative of AFSCME Council 31 who represents the building department, food court, grounds and maintenance and other workers on the site. campuses who are negotiating a new contract.
Renee Nestler said their wages hovered slightly above the minimum wage and the university was bleeding employees who provide these essential services.
“Due to staff shortages, workers are struggling to get much-needed time off, including for medical appointments,” Nestler said. “The ISU has had every opportunity this year to help workers (with a living wage) and it’s not. The message sent to our members by this kind of behavior is clear. It’s, ‘We don’t like you. We don’t think you are important.
The trustees have had no public comment in response to comments from unionized campus workers.