MADISON, WI -- Rec center administrators at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (UW) are hoping to take advantage of the down economy to expand one of its student recreation centers and will ask students to vote for a fee increase to fund the project on April 12.

The university’s existing, aging facilities are unable to accommodate an expanded student population, rec department officials say. The UW Natatorium (NAT) was built in 1964 and its Southeast Recreational Facility (SERF) was built in 1983. The university had three assessments done to examine solutions for overcrowding issues at its existing rec centers.

In preparation for the student vote, administrators developed an educational Web site, NatUp 2010, to explain the proposed expansion and costs to students. Proposed NAT renovations would add 250,000 square feet of fitness space to the campus and be built to meet LEED Silver certification standards.

Under the proposed NAT plan, UW students would be expected to pay an additional $108 per year in student fees, beginning in 2013 and spreading over 30 years. The updated NAT center would be completed by the fall of 2014 if students pass the referendum in April.

To address concerns about beginning the project during a down economy, rec center officials posted the following on the NatUp 2010 site:

“When the idea for the new recreation facility was developed, it was determined that the cost of the project would escalate 5 percent each year that it was delayed. The current economic scenario has altered that projection, and many of our most recent capital projects on campus have been completed under budget. The window for a great value can’t be expected to last, and a commitment now will likely produce the greatest value for future students.”

Current UW rec centers include about 22,000 square feet of fitness space for 42,000 students, plus an additional 16,000 faculty and staff. The National Intramural Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) recommends that universities have one square foot of fitness space dedicated to every student. In 2009, UW’s gyms and fitness facilities had more than 537,000 more uses than in 2000, according to UW Recreational Department statistics.