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29 January 2008

JSU Board Gears Up for Stadium Expansion

By Dan Whisenhunt
Star Staff Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Jacksonville State University prepared the way for a new dormitory and a possible expansion of its football stadium Monday.

But some school faculty wanted reassurances the project won't take money away from academics.

The university's move comes after the board of trustees received a report outlining what it would take to upgrade the school's football program to the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division I.

The report suggests such an upgrade can happen, but not without a new marketing push and more money coming into the program.

The renovations, while not related to the move to FBS per se, are part of a big-picture plan to increase enrollment and to market sports better at the university.

The plan is to build 400 dorm rooms under three floors of "premiere" seating at the JSU football stadium.

The JSU board of trustees met Monday and approved a motion by board member and Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. that will pave the way for the expansion.

The approved motion:

Directs the architect for the project to get ready to accept bids for it by the board's July meeting.

Creates a "facilities campaign board," which would raise money for new sports buildings.

Adds two staff members to promote ticket sales and marketing of JSU sports.

Asks for the creation of a marketing budget for the athletics department.

Board member Ronnie Smith, who supported Folsom's motion, said the board needs to outline how it will pay for the stadium project.

Both projects will be paid for with a bond issue; but they differ in how they will be repaid, University President Bill Meehan said.

Student rentals will pay for the dormitory project, which is estimated to cost $19.7 million, Meehan said.

Meehan said the $17.5 million stadium improvement project will require the university to raise more money, however.

"This project should be supported as a stand-alone project," Smith said, adding later that the board had not made the decision to renovate the stadium.

Becky Turner, vice president of academic and student affairs, said it will be hard for the faculty to support renovating the stadium if it means cutting resources elsewhere.

"We have huge needs for faculty and staff and support services for all students, so our support for a project like this is limited, in that we don't believe that any of our resources could be devoted (to it)," Turner said. "If the project can pay for itself, I think our support could be mustered."

Meehan said the board's actions Monday are aimed at doing that.

He said the board will try to pay for the project through fundraising and sales of premium seating and tickets.

"(The) dormitory we can do either way," Meehan said.

Athletic Director Jim Fuller questioned the fundraising angle of the project.

When asked to comment on the report about upgrading the school's football program, Fuller said he still had unanswered questions about how the school would pay for expansions.

He noted the university is in the middle of a capital campaign to raise $25 million. As of Monday, the campaign had raised $19.6 million.

"I think I caught the message of we needed to start today with an athletic campaign," Fuller said. "Well, we can't do it today, because we have an ongoing capital campaign."

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt covers K-12 schools and higher education for The Star.

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