By Kaylee Lindenmuth
After an hour-long discussion and presentation by KU administration, the Student Government Board, at their Tuesday, Feb. 5 meeting, allocated $1.3 million in activity fee funding for renovations to Keystone Field, expected to be completed by fall 2019.
SGB representatives were briefed on the project by President Kenneth Hawkinson, Vice President of Administration and Finance Gerald Silberman, Vice President of Communications, Marketing and External Affairs Matt Santos, and Assistant Vice President of Recreational Services and Athletic Resources Amy Sandt. After a presentation, representatives had the opportunity to ask questions of the four.
According to their presentation, the project will cost a total of $5,263,476, paid for through funding from four sources: Rec Center funding ($2,482,522), Activity Fee funding ($1,287,440), the Education and General fund ($993,093) and the KU Foundation ($500,421).
Field upgrades would include the installation of a turf field, bleachers, a press box, a scoreboard, a sound system, LED lighting, restrooms and a walkway, among other items.
Speaking of the field in its current state, Santos said, “Because it’s a grass field, we’ve had a lot of battles with it. It doesn’t hold up well. In the summers where we haven’t had a lot of rain, it has been very dry. It’s caused safety issues.”
“We made the decision that we needed to do something to improve our facilities and add a second turf field, not only for our intercollegiate athletic teams but to expand our recreational and club sports opportunities for the entire university,” added Santos. “A grass field … requires a lot of care and is expensive to upkeep.”
Santos cited benefits such as upkeep, drainage and maintenance for the reason behind switching to turf, additionally noting club sports wouldn’t be restricted from using the field as much as they are today.
Sandt added on, noting that intramurals currently use Andre Reed Stadium, KU’s only turf field, until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.
“This would open up opportunities for a lot of our club participants,” said Sandt. “We have about 1,000 intramural participants that we could do more programming for if we had an additional turf field… Having a space like this would allow us to play in not-the-most-ideal conditions, which we can’t do right now.”
Sandt added, “I think it would build a real sense of comradery.”
Silberman noted that a portion of the construction, the restrooms, would benefit events in the O’Pake Fieldhouse, which currently lacks restroom facilities.
Santos added that having a second turf field would place KU on an equal level with similarly sized colleges and would also “enhance the commitment to women’s athletics and Title IX.” He added that a Title IX audit was conducted in the athletic department, and three areas were identified for improvement, which did not include facilities. He did not identify the other three areas.
“We do believe that, by making this commitment, we are making a positive commitment towards Title IX and our women’s athletic teams,” Santos said.
SGB President Braden Hudak asked administration if the improvements to the field would increase enrollment in the face of an expected deficit.
“That’s one of our main motivations from the very beginning, is that this will help increase our enrollment,” answered Hawkinson, adding that many schools have turf stadiums and an additional turf practice or recreational field. “Imagine walking on campus and seeing this beautiful turf field and stadium as opposed to walking and seeing a grass field. We know that tour guides are going to be taking people past this field and pointing out that this is a beautiful thing that our students helped build and took a lead in building, and this will be a real selling point that we all worked together for this.”
Alyssa Ryan, a captain of the women’s soccer team, spoke on behalf of the team.
“We wanted to thank you. We’re very appreciative that you’ve considered what our sport needs,” said Ryan. “I wanted to give you a student athlete’s perspective. Last year, we struggled a lot during preseason because we got a lot of rain, and with our sport being completely outside, it’s hard to do anything when the field is completely covered with water.”
Ryan added that field conditions contributed to injuries during the season as well.
“I think that field would be extremely beneficial,” Ryan added.
Andres Reyes, a new student representative, asked about potential negative impacts the project and its construction may have. Santos answered saying construction will occur over the summer, and additionally, the lighting is designed to be contained to the field itself and will not disturb the residence halls.
“Since the work is being done in the summer, very few students are here, so it shouldn’t interfere with the lives of students,” said Hawkinson. “I only see benefits, really.”
SGB Vice President Ella Sweet asked Sandt how the recreation fee would be impacted if they fund the program, which she said it would be $20 at the most.
“Possibly less, if we can use some of our reserves to offset the cost,” added Sandt.
“I do love the idea of the turf field. I don’t love the idea of $1.3 million coming from our funds,” said Tara Robinson, a College of Business representative, expressing fears of other fees increasing alongside the recreation fee.
SGB Parliamentarian Clyde Killebrew expressed concerns regarding the transparency of the matter and how aware the campus community is of the situation, which Hawkinson said has been in the works for two years.
“It’s been out there for a long time, and you’re a representative democracy,” said Hawkinson. “You’re all representing your areas, and you’re probably talking to your constituencies. My guess is some students won’t support this and some will be really excited. I hope the vast majority will be really excited because of all of the opportunities that we’ve talked about.”
“We’re going to do everything we can to keep fees as low as possible moving forward,” added Hawkinson.
Agostino D’Anconna, a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences representative, asked Hawkinson what would occur if SGB denied the funding request.
“Then we’d have to sit down and reconceptualize the whole project,” answered Hawkinson. “It would just be a tragedy if, after all this work, that this didn’t go through at this point.”
Silberman added that bids were received on the project last week, and they were awaiting approval from funding sources to award contracts.
Following the discussion, SGB Treasurer Amanda Meck made a motion to allocate up to $1.3 million for the project, seconded by D’Anconna.
“This motion is made with the expectation that all students will have an opportunity to utilize the field during open recreation time and that an appropriate schedule will be maintained with this priority in mind,” Meck added.
“No matter what we decide to do with these funds, there will be individuals not included in the impact,” said Dean of Students Donovan McCargo before the vote. “For example, if we decide to say ‘hey, not this project, but another project,’ not every single student is going to benefit from whatever we decide to do with these funds.”
The board was split evenly in their vote, with Hudak voting to break the tie. Two members abstained from the vote.