UW-Madison students will vote beginning Monday on a $60 million addition to one of the main campus gyms, a project some students and officials say is needed to keep up with student demand and fitness trends.
The expansion, which would nearly double the size of the Natatorium, would cost students $54.19 more per semester for the next 30 years, beginning in 2013.
"Someone has to step up so that future generations can have access to the facilities that we never had," said Mike Bernatz, a student who is leading the campaign for the project, called NatUp.
A faction of students oppose raising student fees for the project, but the greatest foe for supporters could be low voter turnout over the three-day-long election.
Under a new rule - which will be tested for the first time this week - at least 15 percent of the student body, or about 6,200 students, must vote in order for building projects to move forward.
That may not seem like a significant percentage, but students have historically voted in low numbers. Typically, less than 10 percent of the student body votes in student elections.
Members of the UW-Madison student government pushed for the requirement after only about 6 percent voted to build a new student union in 2006, causing UW-Madison students to pay $96 a semester for the building, an obligation that also lasts for 30 years.
The memory of that vote "left a foul taste in our mouths," said Peter Rickman, president of the Teaching Assistants' Association who is leading an effort to oppose the Natatorium expansion.
Called "No New Seg Fees," Rickman's group argues that increases in mandatory student fees are a "backdoor tuition hike." He said such fees have increased dramatically in recent years. UW-Madison students pay $1,018 in student fees a year.
"We can't keep hiking segregated fees while tuition skyrockets," he said. "We need to be prioritizing academics. We need to be prioritizing education and not more fancy gyms."
The proposed addition to the Natatorium at 2000 Observatory Drive would add about 250,000 square feet of space to the east side of the building, where sand volleyball courts sit.
"We really have inadequate facilities on this campus," Bernatz said. "They're aging. As far as square footage, they're just not big enough for the amount of students we have here."
UW-Madison has three main exercise facilities, the Southeast Recreational Facility (SERF), the Natatorium and the Camp Randall Sports Center, known as the Shell. Over the past 10 years, facility use has gone up 50 percent while the number of students has remained roughly the same, said Dale Carruthers, director of recreational sports.
Fitness trends also have changed. The Natatorium, which was built in 1964, was constructed with 20 squash courts. Now, students want cardio- and weight-training space, Carruthers said.
The expansion would likely include indoor turf for club teams such as ultimate Frisbee or soccer, a running track, more cardio- and weight-training space and some multi-purpose rooms in anticipation of future fitness demands.
The election will be held through Wednesday. Also on the ballot will be student council elections and a chance for students to vote on a name for the new south campus union.