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University of Nevada students back fee boost for sports, rec center

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RENO, Nev. >> The majority of students at the University of Nevada, Reno say they’re willing to pay higher student fees to help finance the construction of a student fitness center and indoor athletic practice facility.

The advisory vote is being forwarded to the Nevada Board of Regents, which is scheduled in December to consider the fee increase. The proposal would add $30 per semester over the next two years and $60 in 2016, when the project is expected to be completed. Students currently pay an average of more than $250 in fees per semester, according to the university’s website.

School officials say the increase would raise the remaining $18 million needed to build the $46 million fitness center open to all students and the $25 million field house to be used primarily as an indoor practice facility for football. University funds and private donations would cover the rest of the $71 million total cost.

Nevada is the only school in the Mountain West Conference without an indoor football facility.

“These projects recognize the importance of overall health of the student and will help ensure wellness is more fully integrated into our campus culture and the daily lives of our students, faculty and staff,” UNR President Marc Johnson said in a statement late Monday.

“I am pleased to see this concept for enhanced fitness facilities move forward,” he said.

About 15 percent of students, a total of 2,779, cast ballots online in recent weeks, with 58.5 percent supporting the higher fees. School officials said turnout was similar to when students receive email notifications of their chance to vote online in school elections.

The much larger group of undergraduate voters showed they supported it 1,463 votes to 943, while graduate students opposed it 209 to 164.

Because the advisory vote did not win the support of a majority of graduate students, it likely will be proposed as an increase only for undergraduates when the regents are scheduled to consider it at meetings Dec. 5-6, school officials said.

About $21 million in university funds would be used for the project. The remaining $32 million is coming from private donations, including $8 million the E.L. Wiegand Foundation already has contributed toward construction of the fitness center. The center would be four stories and cover more than 100,000 square feet. That facility would be on the parking lot between Lawlor Events Center and the Brian Whalen Parking Complex.

School officials said it will help lure more quality students to the school.

“There is a tremendous amount of research and data that connects student fitness levels to improved cognitive function, academic performance, social networks and engagement on campus, plus a decrease in stress and anxiety,” said Jim Fitzsimmons, director of campus recreation and wellness.

The 120,000- to 150,000-square-foot field house is expected to be located east of Mackay Stadium on the old tennis courts.

It would include a full-length football field; a 307-meter, six-lane track; sprint lanes for high jump, long jump, triple jump and speed training; a half-size soccer field; a lobby; locker rooms; storage; and public restrooms. It would be available to students and community members during specific hours.

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