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new SERF (copy)

An architectural rendering of the updated SERF, part of a $223 millioin rebuild of recreational sports facilities that UW-Madison students approved overwhelmingly this week.

University of Wisconsin-Madison students behind a $223 million rebuild of recreational sports facilities posted a video of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” on the @Bdgrs4RecReform Twitter account Thursday after the project was approved 12,070 to 1,914 in a referendum this week.

The student group was part of a vigorous campaign waged on social media and around campus to build student support for rebuilding overcrowded and outdated facilities that serve as fitness centers and intramural sports venues.

“We are incredibly appreciative of students’ efforts and involvement in this plan,” John Horn, director of the Division of Recreational Sports at UW-Madison posted in a blog created for the project. “Students initiated this plan last year and have had an opportunity to be involved at every level as it moved forward. This vote indicates that students value the benefits of recreation on campus and envision a better UW-Madison experience for future Badgers.”

Student fees for recreational sports are projected to quadruple to about $145 a semester over five years as rebuilt facilities reopen, beginning in 2016.

The plan includes renovating the SERF (Southeast Recreation Facility), 715 W. Dayton St.; upgrading the Near West Fields; rebuilding the Natatorium, an indoor sports facility with a pool at 200 Observatory Dr.; and upgrading the Near East Fields, in that order.

The turnout this week of just over 34 percent was about the same as four years ago when students turned down a proposed $60 million expansion of the Natatorium that would have hiked student fees by $54 a semester.

But unlike in 2010, when the Teaching Assistants’ Association led a successful campaign against the fee hike, there was no organized opposition this time around.

Both university officials and students said the 2010 referendum led to a more transparent process, and a university pledge not to raise student fees for recreational sports facilities beyond the Big Ten average of about $145 per semester.

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TAA took no position on this referendum, but launched a petition campaign asking athletic department officials to kick in more than the “measly” $7 million it has committed to the projects to spare students the huge boost in fees.

The move unleashed some resentment in the community over the high-revenue, high-cost athletic department some perceive as standing apart from the rest of campus. Athletics officials said they could not afford to give more to recreational sports facilities because of their own building projects, and already send $8.2 million to other uses each year.

The TAA says that even with the referendum passed, the issue of where the money comes from can still be changed.

Co-president Charity Schmidt told the Daily Cardinal she does not know whether athletics will shift its stance, but said she hopes the issue “reminds them that they are part of this grand university and that it inspires them to give back.”