ISU Trustees Approve $ 11.5 Million Indoor Sports Training Facility

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The Illinois State University Board of Trustees on Saturday unanimously voted to authorize the athletics department to proceed with a $ 11.5 million indoor dome exercise facility.

The inflatable structure will be erected on the current ISU soccer training field north of Horton Fieldhouse. ISU Athletics Director Kyle Brennan told trustees at a special meeting that the nearly 79,000-square-foot facility would host soccer, baseball, softball and soccer in bad weather.

The board’s approval came amid protests by union officials from the campus union against the ongoing salary issue of academic assistants and complaints about low wages being paid to other ISU employees.

The addition of the indoor exercise room will help ease the pressure of planning to use Horton, which Brennan says is used every day of the week from 5 a.m. to midnight.

Currently, Horton Fieldhouse supports academic programming and other activities for the larger campus community, particularly Campus Recreation, the School of Kinesiology and Recreation within the College of Applied Science and Technology, ROTC, and University High School.

The new exercise center will be funded by ticket sales and other revenue from the sports department’s revenues such as sportswear and equipment merchandising, as well as private fundraising, which has already reached $ 7 million, Brennan said. Trustee Bob Dobski asked about supply chain issues and the possibility that these could drive up construction and labor costs.

Dan Stephens, vice president of finance and planning, assured Dobski that an outside appraisal firm was hired to work out the cost of construction and based on sellers’ estimates over the past few weeks, the cost is lower than expected. He reported that materials are available, but the $ 11.5 million includes “a healthy contingency.”

Trustee Rocky Donahue asked for clarification that no public tax money would be spent on the project. Stephens responded by confirming that no government funds will be used.

“When we have collected the private funds, we can go ahead,” Brennan said after the meeting.

Construction will not begin until funding reaches $ 8 million (70% of construction cost). Trustees then need to approve funding for the project; which will be voted on after the final bids have been received. The project requires a 20 year bond of $ 9.8 million, combined with $ 1.4 million of unspent sports facility bonds from the Redbird Arena seating renovation project and an additional $ 165,000 from other resources from the Sports department.

Brennan said the approximately $ 350 to $ 400,000 required each year to maintain and operate the facility will be funded through rentals to the community on nights and weekends when not in use by ISU Athletics.

“We know that there is a great need for indoor spaces in winter. So it’s a great opportunity for us to bring the community to campus because these are future Redbirds, not just athletes. We really want to work with the community to give anyone who needs it a chance to come and practice, play and compete in our space, ”Brennan said.

He said a feasibility study found the facility would need to be rented 40% of the available time to cover overheads, adding that there was more than enough demand in the community to meet that threshold.

Workers protest against low wages

Prior to the vote, Trevor Rickerd, a PhD graduate from the School of Biological Sciences, said he had chosen to skip the degree to attend the meeting as a college graduate union representative to inform trustees that despite a recent one Contract with university assistant the negotiated salary increases are not applied.

“What I learned recently is that the university has decided not to give adequate funding to the subsequent departments where these increases should be made so that those departments can do what they need to do – the people at the right prices and hire enough people to actually do the work for the university, ”he said.

With no funding to support the teaching assistant pay raise, Rickerd suggested that labor law issues affecting other parts of the university will continue to affect academic areas.

“People will go elsewhere because wages are getting higher elsewhere. Workers are realizing that their work is worth something to this university, ”Rickerd said, claiming that the university’s recently improved credit rating was in part due to underpaid workers.

After pointing out the $ 11.5 million being spent on the sports facility, Rickered asked the trustees, “What are our priorities as a university right now? Serious. What’s the narrative here? ”He added,“ Do the right thing. ”

The comments followed complaints from other unionized workers, including a local representative from AFSCME Council 31 representing building services, food centers, grounds and maintenance, and other workers on campus negotiating a new contract.

Renee Nestler said her wages are hovering slightly above the minimum wage and that the university is bleeding to death from employees who provide these essential services.

“Because of the shortage of staff, it is difficult for workers to get much-needed time off, including for doctor’s appointments,” said Nestler. “ISU has had every opportunity this year to help workers (on a living wage) and it hasn’t. The message sent to our members through this type of behavior is clear. They say, “We don’t value you. We don’t consider you important. ‘”

The trustees had no public comments on the comments made by the unionized campus workers.

After the meeting, ISU spokesman Eric Jome said: “We have various negotiating units in negotiations throughout the year. ISU continues to negotiate in good faith. We value the work of all university staff, including college graduates and others on campus. “


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