NAU will use student athletic fees to fund new facility

Illustration by Diana Ortega

NAU students were among those voicing their opinions about the $46 million Student Athlete High Performance Center approved for construction at the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) meeting that took place in mid-September.

The 77,000 square foot building will feature the NAU Hall of Fame, a box office and a large gymnasium with up to 3,000 seats, including 2,200 that retract. The training space will also include strength and conditioning facilities, a nutrition station, oxygen-related altitude training, sports medicine facilities and academic support space. Coaching staff and athletes will have access to lockers, a team lounge and coaching offices.

Katie Martinez, ASNAU vice president of student affairs, addressed ABOR about concerns regarding the lack of transparency with the student body in consideration of the athletic center. Martinez said the proposed use of student fees to pay for the construction was not fully shared with those who contribute funds.

Junior Seth Long, a student athlete and member of the student advisory committee, said he supports the use of student fees to fund the new center.

“Not long ago, the Regents voted this student fee into existence so that it would benefit both students and athletes,” Long said. “The advisory committee believes the performance center encompasses that belief.”

The Student Athlete High Performance Center is a collaboration between NAU Athletics and the College of Health and Human Services. It will focus on the wellness and development of NAU student athletes and provide educational opportunities for NAU students.

Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics, Mike Marlow, contributed to the presentation for ABOR members as a representative of NAU’s 358 student athletes, coaches and staff. He explained how the center will implement 20,000 square feet for learning and research availability, which is designed for nearly 1,500 students who study nutrition, exercise sciences, strength and conditioning, physical therapy, athletic training and mental health counseling.

“We’ve described it from the beginning as transformational in many ways, starting with the ability to fulfill our commitment to our student athletes — to put them in a position to come to NAU and maximize their athletic and academic potential,” Marlow said. “We feel that we are, at this point, consistent with our comment to The Lumberjack in February of 2018, that the performance center can indeed expand knowledge on our campus.”

Marlow explained how NAU loses potential players to competing universities, which offer the latest training equipment and updated facilities, including schools in the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences.

Voting to approve NAU’s 2021-23 Capital Improvement and Development plans was initiated Sept. 19. Student Regent Lauren L’Ecuyer requested the athletic center be removed from the ballot and considered at a later date, as stated in the ABOR annotated agenda.

L’Ecuyer said she is concerned with the amount of student fees dedicated solely to the athletics programs, which will now be tied up in this project. Another concern is the lack of communication between the administration and student body.

“That’s really where my concern comes from, and I think we heard a similar concern earlier in calls to the audience,” L’Ecuyer said. “Agreeing to 25 years of dedicated student fee money at that 60% level without adequate consultation of the students, the advisory board and the students at large — I guess I struggle with that.”

L’Ecuryer’s motion to remove the Capital Improvement and Development plans failed. The plans passed via a 9-1 vote, which authorized the construction of the athletic center.

Standing in support of the new athletic center with an emphasis on how facilities matter, Regent Karrin Taylor Robson was among those who voted in favor of the proposed plan. However, she did caution NAU regarding the involvement of students in future decision-making processes.

“I would just encourage NAU to be very mindful of that as you proceed forward, in particular when dealing with student money,” Robson said.

In an email from L’Ecuryer following the approval, she explained additional concerns expressed during the ABOR meeting. L’Ecuryer said the percentage of fees committed to this construction project limits the advisory board, which is comprised of non-athletes and athletes, in choosing how fees are spent.

“[The board] would prioritize a list of items that athletics was interested in pursuing,” L’Ecuryer said via email. “With the approval of this new building, athletics has taken away the ability of the board to function as it was designed to.”

An official statement from NAU administration affirmed its support of the decision, despite various questions regarding the decline in enrollment and athletic event attendance.

“This project is directly tied to student success and access — enhance student learning through high quality, student-centered educational experiences, increase number of students who are retained and graduate, increase enrollment, retention, and graduation of diverse students,” NAU administration stated.

NAU administration’s statement also contained a list of facilities that are currently used by the athletics department, which will be released for recreational and academic use by other students upon completion of the new athletic center.

This list included the following:

The football team will no longer need to reserve space in the W. A. Franke College of Business auditorium for team meetings.

Basketball teams will no longer need to take the University Union Fieldhouse offline for other students during the season for practice space and are also utilizing the Health and Learning Center (HLC), and it will be available for student recreational use.

Space in the HLC and the Rolle Activity Center for practice and team meetings will no longer be needed. Basketball and volleyball will reduce Rolle court use.

Football and soccer will reduce South Recreation Field use for training and conditioning.

Cheer and Dance will no longer utilize the Recreation Center for practice.

Even with the added benefits communicated by NAU, L’Ecuryer said a better procedure should have been followed.

“Further, there was little to no consultation to students for where this money would be going, no explanation that the lease was 25 years and no transparency as to how much money coming out of student’s pockets that translates to,” L’Ecuryer said. “It’s a shame that there was no process followed this time. We as student regents expect more in the future, and as students at the university, you should too.”

During the ABOR meeting, Daniel Okoli, vice president for capital planning and campus operations, said the new athletic center will be completed in December 2021.