Significant facilities improvements and investments are in store for West Virginia University athletic facilities and the Personal Rapid Transit system, pending Board of Governors approval at the April 4 meeting as well as further authorization from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission at its April meeting.
The Board’s seven-member Finance Committee, chaired by William O. Nutting, vice president of Ogden Newspapers, reviewed the plans and associated resolutions that would authorize the issuance of revenue bonds in late summer to cover the principal costs of updating and modernizing many of WVU’s decades-old facilities at Friday’s (March 28) meeting.
The athletic facilities master plan with some projects expected to begin later this year; others in the coming years is estimated to cost $106 million, with $75 million in bonds made possible from guaranteed annual revenue from the Big 12 Conference, $6 million from a capital expenditure fund in the multimedia rights contract with IMG and $25 million in private donations through the Mountaineer Athletic Club.
Initially, the football team room in the Milan Puskar Center will be updated and expanded, and renovations and expansions will be undertaken at 35-year-old Milan Puskar Stadium to include the concourses, restrooms, gates, concessions, LED boards and wall graphics. A marquee at the Coliseum intersection is also planned.
Many of the current athletic facilities are 35-45 years old and in need of major makeovers, said Michael Szul, senior associate athletic director for business operations.
He said the following revenue and non-revenue sports projects are also in the planning stages: renovation of the Coliseum restrooms and concession areas and potential expansion of the concourses; renovations and a new indoor track at the Shell Building; additional home and visiting locker rooms; additional weight rooms; renovation of the Natatorium and tennis courts; repurposing Hawley Field; and additional infrastructure improvements to enhance the fan experience.
Szul also recapped recently completed projects, including the new basketball practice facility, renovations at the Dreamworks soccer stadium, the weight room and coaches meeting area at Puskar Center, renovations at the Natatorium and ongoing preventative maintenance projects in addition to the new TIF-funded baseball ballpark slated for completion in early 2015.
WVU’s nearly 40-year-old Personal Rapid Transit system, or electric-powered people mover that connects WVU’s three campuses and Downtown Morgantown business district, is also in need of major modernization as identified in the PRT Master Plan, officials said.
Since opening in 1975, the PRT has provided some 81 million passenger trips (some 15,000 each weekday) without injury and taken countless vehicles off the congested roadways in Morgantown. It is considered the primary “critical” mass transit system for the movement of students, employees and visitors on a daily basis.
With reliability a major issue after nearly four decades, however, WVU is committed to a multi-phase PRT revitalization program and has invested nearly $21.7 million to advance Phase 1 of a modernization plan.
Randy Hudak, associate vice president for Facilities and Services, said Phase 2 will target the redesign and replacement of the Automatic Train Control System, replacement of substations and electrical gear, and tunnel repair at an estimated cost of around $53 million.
This second phase of modernization, if approved, will be financed through revenue bonds supported by WVU fees ($10 per semester increase through 2022) and federal grants, Hudak said, with work to begin immediately.
A number of downtime events currently experienced by the PRT are related to the present train control system, he added, and the new system will include new vehicle controllers, wayside and station computer control equipment, central control equipment and fare gates with new destination selection units. The new system will also use radio frequency communication rather than current signaling methods, reducing maintenance needs and improving system availability.
The final phase of replacement cars and other improvements will require additional financing, officials said.
The committee also reviewed quarterly financial reports and 2014 monthly performance indicators, which indicate a better net position than this time last year.
The committee plans to reconvene for additional special meetings to discuss the 2015-2016 budget prior to the regular June Board meeting.
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