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WCSU's Athletic Director Ed Farrington surveys program's capital priorities

Stop by WCSU’s Westside Athletic Complex during the fall semester, and odds are you would find student athletes from one of the Colonials’ many fall sports teams on the field engaged in practice or competition.

“In the fall, sometimes you’re wall-to-wall with players on the field, and practices often continue well into the night,” Western Director of Athletics Ed Farrington observed during a recent interview at his office at the O’Neill Athletic and Convocation Center.

Farrington takes pride in the university’s commitment to preserve a wide variety of competitive sports offerings for Western students. But he also must look forward to anticipate the significant capital improvements that will be required in coming years to ensure WCSU will have the facilities needed to maintain a strong and diverse athletics program. As he surveys the heavy usage that the WAC field receives throughout the academic year, he recognizes that maintenance and eventual replacement of the stadium’s artificial turf surface represent the Athletic Department’s most pressing infrastructure concern.

Sprinturf, a leading manufacturer of polyethylene turf now owned by Integrated Turf Solutions, installed the original Ultrablade MP rubber surface for the athletic complex that opened on the university’s Westside campus in 2004. Farrington observed that such artificial turf surfaces typically show substantial wear from continuous use that requires replacement approximately 10 years after installation.

“That field has to be our number one priority,” Farrington observed. “We play football, men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey, and men’s and women’s lacrosse there. And we don’t just play our home games there, but we practice there as well. When you look at the sports program in its entirety, at the teams with a total of well over 200 students who use that facility, you have to put that field at the top of our priority list.”

Major facilities needs over the near to middle term such as artificial turf replacement at the WAC underscore the ongoing challenge that the university faces in raising private funds to provide the quality infrastructure needed to field and sustain Western’s 14 varsity sports programs.  Farrington noted that the turf replacement project carries a significant estimated cost of approximately $1 million, dependent on more detailed analysis of site preparation requirements. This and other major athletic infrastructure projects face an uncertain timetable in an increasingly challenging environment for state funding, heightening the need to pursue private support.

“In terms of day-to-day operations, our budgets have allowed us to meet our obligations to our student athletes,” he said. “Although the Athletic Department budget has seen minimum growth in recent years, we have not suffered serious cuts and we have been able to meet our commitments in maintaining team equipment and avoiding any cutbacks in team schedules and travel. We have had to tighten up on expenses, but we have never had to reduce the number of games we play or limit the opportunity for our students to participate in athletics.

“Where we face the risk of falling behind is in meeting our big-ticket needs for capital improvements,” he noted. “The challenge is how we are going to keep up with refurbishing or replacing major athletic facilities. In athletics, especially when you start recruiting, facilities play an important role in determining who you can talk to.” 

The WAC artificial turf surface is just one of several infrastructure needs that the Athletic Department aims to address within the next five years. Farrington outlined several other priorities, including:

  • Development of a new baseball field, to replace a present field that Farrington described as “grossly inadequate” to meet the Colonials’ practice and competitive requirements.

  • Replacement of the portable basketball floor at the Feldman Arena in the O’Neill Athletic and Convocation Center, at an estimated cost of approximately $125,000. “After many years of taking that basketball floor up and putting it down again, it’s like the pieces of a puzzle, they just don’t fit together as well,” Farrington observed.

  • Repair and upgrade of the six lighted tennis courts on the Westside campus, at an estimated cost of approximately $125,000.

  • Expansion of the natatorium at the O’Neill Center to improve locker facilities and provide additional space for seating within the natatorium during swim team meets and other events. Sharing the view from the second-floor balcony space overlooking the six-lane natatorium, Farrington noted that fans at meets currently must stand and their cheering is sealed off from competitors by the thick glass separating them from the competition, “like Dustin Hoffman in the wedding scene from ‘The Graduate.’” Renovation plans call for outward movement of the exterior wall opposite the present viewing balcony to permit installation of new locker rooms at the pool level and bleachers for seating within the natatorium at the upper level.

Farrington noted the Athletic Department varsity sports programs also offer opportunities for private donations to support ongoing fundraising efforts by individual teams to support their competitive requirements, especially to meet travel budgets for regular season and tournament contests at off-campus sites.

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