By Daniel Bendtsen
Via Wyoming News Exchange
LARAMIE — The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees will ask the state to provide $49.6 million for a renovation of War Memorial Stadium’s west side stands and the Corbett Pool, which is used by the university’s swimming and diving teams.
UW Athletic Director Tom Burman has described a rebuild of Corbett Pool as his department’s greatest need.
“The Corbett Pool project is something we’ve been talking about for 10 years. It’s a project that needs to happen if we’re going to have men’s and women’s swimming and diving at the university in 2030,” Burman said at the trustees’ budget hearing last week. “I don’t want to retire without getting the pool done, otherwise somebody’s going to have to drop the program. I don’t want to be part of that and I won’t be part of that.”
However, the project has so far failed to find favor with private donors and legislators, and trustees are hoping that coupling a renovation of the pool with a renovation of War Memorial Stadium, even though the projects aren’t really connected, will spur legislators who are fans of Wyoming athletics to fund both projects.
During last week’s board meeting, some trustees expressed some discomfort with the strategy, and Trustee Kermit Brown — formerly the Wyoming Speaker of the House — said he even considered voting against the request because of that reason.
Brown suggested the projects would be better separate, especially since the Corbett Pool project is a more pressing need.
“As far as the west stands go, I understand what everybody wants, but $50 million for six days a year, three of which are probably in lousy weather, is not very good math,” he said.
At last week’s budget hearing, Burman did suggest that one of his main priorities is to increase the Athletic Department’s self-generated revenue, something that renovations of the stadium could help. He said the Wildcatter Suites now bring $750,000 in net revenue and said that more “premium seating” on the west stands could also have a revenue impact.
“On the lower west side, the treads and the risers in the bleacher section and the press box are far below Mountain West Conference standards and we need to find a way to upgrade that,” he said. “We’re going to need, as part of our vision, to make fans feel better, whether it’s back-rests or chair-backs or better concessions. They have an expectation level of what Saturday football’s supposed to be like and it’s very different from what we provide.”
Burman also said sports reporters also expect better facilities.
“We want regional and national media to come to Wyoming and think we do things with class, and right now we don’t over there,” Burman said of the press box.
The total cost for both projects is projected at $74.2 million, and Vice President for Finance Administration Neil Theobald said UW plans to fundraise for the $24.6 million that’s not being requested from the state.
Burman said coupling the projects together will also help with private fundraising for the pool.
“I believe there’s strong interest from the private sector to help us on the west side stadium project. I wish I could say there was strong interest on the pool project. That’s a harder one,” Burman said.
The original deadline for UW to submit construction project requests to the State Construction Department for the 2020 budget session was May 1. However, the university received a 30-day extension to accommodate its May meeting.
On Thursday, the trustees approved a $1 million renovation of the Corbett Pool locker rooms. The College of Health Sciences, which is also in need of new classroom and lab space, is now using the Corbett Pool facility for some kinesiology work.
McKinley told Burman and Health Sciences interim dean David Jones to work on a plan that considers ways that a revamped Corbett Pool might serve more of the college’s academic needs.
McKinley said that, if the Corbett Pool project earns favor in the Legislature, it might be an opportunity to help solve some of Health Sciences’s facility needs by having an “aquatic center plus classroom space.”