Proposition for sports complex hits speedbumps with BOR, legislature

UAA’s primary athletics facility has served students for the last 32 years, but the complex, built for a community college, is far past its prime.

The Wells Fargo Sports Complex is a minimalist arena with a single practice hockey rink, one basketball court, a pool and a weight room made from racquetball courts. In its glory days the Wells Fargo Sports Complex served as a recreational facility for a community college with no athletics, physical education program or on-campus housing.

Now, the Complex serves 15,000 students, 11 college athletic Division I and Division II athletic teams and thousands of community members.

“This small facility is overwhelmed and is used every available hour of every day,” Vice Chancellor Bill Spindle said.

A new sports arena has been on the radar at UAA for four years. This upgraded facility will provide the services that the Wells Fargo Sports Complex has grown too old to provide. This new sports arena, proposed to the legislature in 2006, would be 130,000 square feet.  It would include a three-court gymnasium, a gymnastics facility and an additional two-court gym for student and community use. A running track would circle the gym, which would also house a fitness center, training room, academic classrooms and administration offices.

“The (WFSC) is terribly inadequate for the UAA student body and community it serves,” Steve Cobb, director of UAA athletics, said.

Preliminary planning for this modern sports complex began in 2006, when $15 million was appropriated in FY09 capital budget for design, selected infrastructure and site work. UAA created a team made up of McCool Carlson and Green with sports arena experts Hastings and Chivetta Architects to prepare the project design and do eventual site work.

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In June 2009, the Board of Regents provided the authority for UAA to spend some the complex’s budget on engineering and architecture plans including cost estimates for construction maintenance and operations.  Things were moving along.

In December of 2009, the Board of Regents formed a subcommittee consisting of Regents Drygas, Marrs and Wickersham to review the size, traffic access, athletic and recreation needs at UAA and cost and financing options for the complex.

Currently, however, the progress on the complex seems to have come to a standstill. For FY10 the Board of Regents approved a $65 million construction request for the complex. Gov. Parnell nixed this proposal.

Since the University received so little funding in FY10, the Regents decided to scale back the project list and budget request for FY11, focusing on maintenance of the UA system.

“They decided to focus on only one project, the UAF Life Science Classroom and Lab Facility and asked us to relook at the size of the Arena to make sure it met our overall athletic, recreation and related academic needs,” Spindle said.

The project is currently being resized and the WFSC is being considered for renovation and expansion, according to Spindle.

“The regents had a number of questions, including what will happen to the Wells Fargo Sports Complex,” UA spokeswoman Kate Ripley said. “They felt they did not have enough answers. The regents really want to do this project, but they want to do it right.”