Story by Luigi DiMeglio and Salvatore Trifilio
As construction begins for Rafferty Stadium, disagreements have also begun to build around the project, calling into question the transparency of the administration and Board of Trustees.
The Board gave approval for the project on Dec. 5 and, on April 7, Fairfield began construction on the estimated $11 million project. The original projected cost was approximately $9 million.
Confidential documents – obtained by The Mirror – from the Board of Trustees’ recent March 27 meeting state the current budget estimate of the stadium to have risen to $11,050,000.
A major critic of the unanimous Board decision to begin construction, Dr. Richard DeWitt, professor of philosophy, says the use of Fairfield reserve monies to help fund the stadium is misguided. These reserve monies are commonly referred to as the school’s plant fund, which represents any money leftover from the previous year’s operating budget.
Additionally, in the April 9 issue of The Mirror, Michelle Russomano ‘16 authored an opinion piece also criticizing Fairfield’s construction on Rafferty Stadium because it took precedence over the planned RecPlex renovation.
“I was also under the impression that Fairfield lacrosse alumni were donating the entire renovation,” Russomano stated. “From my understanding, the alumni donations have not reached their goal yet, but construction is still proceeding.”
However, Dr. Mark C. Reed, senior vice president of administration, chief of staff and interim vice president of university advancement, said there was no goal to receive only donations to fund the project.
The Board of Trustees’ meeting notes from Dec. 5 provided by DeWitt shows that the administration did anticipate full funding from donations: “While it had been planned that 100% of the funding for this project would have been raised through gifts, results to date have fallen short of expectations.”
Because the stadium project budget has increased from $9 million to $11 million, roughly $2 million will have to be taken from the plant fund under revised donation expectations.
“At this moment, I am confident in saying we have raised over $7 million for the stadium and we are still actively fundraising,” said Reed.
Reed told The Mirror that the Board of Trustees approved the beginning of construction with current funds raised and approved the use of “about $2 million” from the university’s plant fund.
As of the March 27 Board of Trustees’ meeting, the plant fund’s current balance sits at $8.2 million, excluding what will be used for Rafferty Stadium – a figure that has yet to be permanently set – according to documents obtained by The Mirror.
DeWitt criticized the administration and Board for withdrawing from the plant fund to help cover the fundraising shortfall, but not to save faculty jobs during a budget deficit a couple years ago.
However, Reed explained this was not a possibility. Furthermore, research of plant funds show that these funds are designated specifically for construction purposes, according to a Rutgers University Accounting web page.
According to Reed, it would be irresponsible for the university to use these reserve monies to fund salaries, since it is impossible to guarantee those same funds would be available in the next fiscal year.
WHY THE STADIUM WAS APPROVED
Despite controversies surrounding the Rafferty Stadium construction, Reed, the senior administration and the Board of Trustees all believe the project to be an essential component for Fairfield’s strategic vision.
Alumni Field, the venue currently being dismantled to make way for the stadium, was in “very poor condition,” according to Reed.
According to the Board of Trustees’ meeting documents provided by DeWitt, “there are serious safety, usability and functional considerations,” concerning Alumni Field prior to project approval, Reed told the Board of Trustees on Dec. 5, 2013.
Even without stadium construction, Fairfield would have had to replace the artificial turf field, stands, lights and scoreboard, according to Reed.
The stadium is also designed to align with Fairfield lacrosse’s goal to make a final four appearance or win a national championship game.
“We ultimately are always trying to raise the profile of Fairfield University,” Reed said. “And not just raise the profile for the sake of raising the profile, but for what it does for the institution.
“The higher profile you have, the more your name is known. The more that people have heard of you, the more that people come to the campus and see the campus which translates into a better institution overall.”
While Reed said he recognizes Rafferty Stadium’s lacrosse emphasis, he also said the facility would continue to be used for a variety of purposes including intramural sports.
“An institution that is not building is dying,” said Reed.
DeWitt said he understands the strategic plan, but believes the project undermines Fairfield’s core mission of education.
“It seems we have a president Ahab who is obsessed with harpooning a national lacrosse championship, no matter the damage to the ship and crew,” he said.
Board of Trustees minutes and notes are considered confidential and are only intended for Board members, senior administration and others invited to attend Board meetings. These documents, however, are easily accessible to the public online.