By Heather Pearson
Willamette is allocating roughly 2.5 million dollars toward capital projects for athletic facilities to increase compliance with Title IX requirements for female athletes. An expected 1.7 million will be put toward improvements of Sparks Field, $500,000 to locker rooms in McCulloch Stadium and $140,000 towards Sparks Fitness Center locker room changes.
The administration has explained that these renovations will improve facilities for female athletes and move Willamette towards Title IX compliance. The school is currently 20 percent out of compliance with Title IX regulations, providing 190 fewer opportunities for female athletes than male. Students brought this to light after the elimination of women’s crew and the subsequent student protest of that decision, culminating in a lawsuit against the school last spring.
The specific changes are threefold: with the addition of women’s lacrosse as a varsity sport, new locker rooms will be added to the basement of Sparks fitness center to accommodate these twenty or so new athletes. Sports such as basketball and swimming have locker rooms already, so this change mimics the pattern already in place.
Additionally, Sparks field will be updated. 30 foot tall netting will be added around the field, the scoreboard will be replaced, new bleachers added, a press box built and turf updated. This field is utilized by both men’s and women’s soccer and will be the site for women’s lacrosse as well. Vice President of Student Affairs Ed Whipple stated that the current turf field is 13 to 15 years old, while the lifespan of such a field is usually about 10 years.
The third renovation will create spaces for locker rooms for track & field and cross country at McCulloch Stadium in Bush Park. Currently using baseball and football locker rooms, these teams haven’t previously had a space of their own. By adding these locker rooms and increasing field usability, Willamette is expanding the overall space dedicated for female athletes, thus coming closer to Title IX compliance.
The money for these updates comes from a debt refinancing of bonds. Bonds are a way for an entity like Willamette to borrow money from investors, in which the university specifies how they will spend the money when attracting investors. Thus, the money allocated to the school from this bond is legally only allowed to finance capital projects or, in other words, physical facilities and property decisions on campus. Money for athletic expenses other than physical facilities comes from a budget dispersed by Ed Whipple in a separate process.
The decisions of how to specifically allocate bond money is decided by the Capital Project Advisory Committee, a group which includes one staff member and one student representative. This group decides which capital projects on-campus are most in need of funding each year.
Previous plans had scheduled this money to be used for updates to Belknap and Mathews in the new first-year commons. This commons change is a move by the administration to increase first-year community and retention by housing all first-year students in Eastside residence halls. To complete this plan, renovations to Eastside halls are necessary in order to create enough rooms for all first-year students. However, these planned updates have been delayed for one year in order to focus on Title IX compliance first.
“This stuff is important,” reported Vice President for Planning Jim Bauer about updated athletic facilities for women, “so [we said] let’s go get this done”.
In a period of budget difficulties, many students view this expenditure on athletics as contrary to student interests, especially given the reduction of health services on campus. Bauer contended that this money cannot legally be used for anything besides facilities.
“There needs to be more communication to students about how the Willamette Budget is decided and how money is allocated,” commented senior Caden Crowston. “Administration needs to put effort into making these processes clear and accessible,” he continues, adding that students also need to make the effort to be informed and fight misinformation.
Bauer responded that he “wishes [he] could explain to everyone how good this is — the first renovation in twenty years” of athletic facilities and residence halls, especially as they are funded by a refinancing that will not affect how much students pay.
“We are careful to make sure these changes will make substantial improvements in student lives for twenty or more years” to come, he says.
Students can expect these updates to be completed by Fall of 2018.