Next month, University of Wisconsin students will vote on facility upgrades for the Division of Recreational Sports. The entire project, after months of student feedback and adjustments to the plan, will cost approximately $223 million. Of that $223 million, more than $97 million has already been committed through alternative funding sources. The remaining amount comes out to about $108 per student per semester. That number will likely go down as additional private funding is secured, but the potential costs do not tell the whole story.

The four main recreational facilities on campus were built in 1957, 1964, 1968 and 1983. Those facilities need tens of millions of dollars in repairs (right now!) just to get up to code. This is the result of past Rec Sports leadership asking for less than they needed over the last three decades.

The new leadership in Rec Sports has already communicated to student government that increases should be expected for the next several years if students do not support the plan on the referendum (which, unlike the Union South and Memorial Union, will only charge students as the phases of the plans are completed). Facilities Planning and Management estimates that would be around double what students pay now, and that does nothing to address the space needs.

Rec Sports is not entering a facility “arms race” with anyone on campus, in the Big Ten or across the country. New leadership has put a plan together that meets student needs (which they are not coming close to doing now), and can sustain the campus for decades ahead. “Purdue builds an Olympic-size pool, and Indiana wants one?” Well, Rec Sports in Madison asked students if they wanted to pay approximately $30 million dollars for a competition pool, and they said no. Guess what! Rec Sports listened. I don’t know what that means for our swim team, but that’s something for UW’s Division of Athletics to consider. (Another common misconception is that Rec Sports and Athletics are the same thing. They are not, and it’s not Rec Sports that benefits from Athletic Revenue).

I was a sophomore during the NatUp proposal in 2010, which failed something like 6,000 to 8,000 votes, the highest in Associated Students of Madison history. Coincidentally, a group called NoNewSegFees was spreading misinformation about the plan, and the Teaching Assistants’ Association was with them, vehemently opposing the proposal. That spring, roughly 6,000 more graduate students voted than an average election. Essentially, a group that makes up about a quarter of this campus decided for the other three quarters that this wasn’t going to happen.

That being said, this Rec Sports Master Plan is not NatUp. NatUp was a patch job, and long term, the new plan is much, much better, and blows the proposal that was NatUp out of the water. Student fees will be kept down until major phases are completed, and it will put our campus in a position to provide a better UW experience until our grandkids are here.

Does student turnover create short memories? Maybe. But what would concern me more is that student turnover creates nearsightedness. To those who see beyond their time on campus: You aren’t being asked to pay for the whole thing, or anything, really, just to plant the seed. A vote of “yes” plants that seed. To those who only care about right now: You should also be voting yes, because if students vote “no,” Rec Sports will ask for a lot of money, and they’ll ask for it starting next semester, because they will have to.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” I’m pretty sure a president said that, but the point is, passing this problem on to future badgers is going to cost us more, both in the short term and the long term. If you have questions, ask them. If you have concerns or suggestions, voice them at

Rec Sports is listening.

Joe Vanden Avond ([email protected]graduated from UW in 2013 with degrees in philosophy and political science.