Rent funds keep dome in shape

Katie Pulvermacher, News Editor

The Rec Plex, often dubbed “the bubble,” is an iconic facility on the UW Oshkosh campus that is often rented out by on- and off-campus groups.

Students pay $5 per semester in segregated fees to support the Rec Plex. This money goes into an escrow to eventually replace the dome fabric and turf when it has passed its 15-20 year lifespan. Therefore, when these things need replacing, the Student Recreation and Wellness Center (SRWC) has the money to restore it immediately.

Students help pay for the Rec Plex, but how much money is it gaining from renting and where is the money going?

“This academic year has seen a high number of usage and rental groups,” Rec Plex Coordinator Patrick Marcoe said. “We brought in roughly $60,000 in rental revenue from the Rec Plex this year.”

The Rec Plex, according to the UWO website, “is a 4.35-acre recreational complex with multi-use synthetic turf, state-of-the-art LED lighting, a 3,000-plus square foot support building and a temperature controlled dome to allow for year-round recreation.”

Kyra Slakes / Advance-Titan
The Rec Plex provides covered turf for students and renters to use all throughout the year.

The facility was opened in the summer of 2018. Marcoe said compared to previous years, this academic school year has been the most successful in gaining revenue.

The 2018-2019 school year gained around $20,000 in revenue and the 2019-2020 school year was cut short by COVID-19, but still gained $37,000. The pandemic during the 2020-2021 school year completely closed down the Rec Plex, leading to no revenue being generated.

Associate Director of Student Recreation Tony Dirth said despite COVID-19, the department, including himself, are content with the usage thus far.

“I’m very pleased with the growth we’ve seen with the Rec Plex,” Dirth said. “It’s been a challenge to try to get to where we’re stable, but we’ve been able to see some growth to meet the needs of the students and develop relationships with user groups outside.”
A concern among students is having an equal amount of access to the Rec Plex as renters.

“I think our whole intention was creating the schedule to maximize student usage, while also balancing the operational budget,” Dirth said. “There’s an opportunity for students to come and use it more during [scheduled] times, but we’ve struck a good balance [between student and rental use].

During the week, athletics can reserve space from 3-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. UWO sport clubs can reserve space from 5-7 p.m. and student recreation programs (such as intramural sports and group exercise) from 7-11 p.m.

If there is nothing scheduled during these times, students and student organizations can look to reserve time or walk in.

The Rec Plex can be rented by groups on the weekends from 5 p.m. on Friday through 10 p.m. on Sunday, including during academic breaks.

“This academic year between athletics, sport clubs and non-university groups, we have had over 20 different groups reserve space at the Rec Plex,” Marcoe said.

Marcoe said in the current academic year, the Rec Plex has seen close to 10,000 swipes uses by students.

Freshman Lizzie Slobodecki has used the Rec Plex facilities with the UWO softball team.
“It’s a different atmosphere,” Slobodecki said. “We’ve never really played on the Rec Plex before [this season]. With bad weather, the Rec Plex helped us get in our games so we didn’t have to move our schedule around.”

Slobodecki said the team struggled playing games on the turf versus the usual playing on dirt fields, but nonetheless, she enjoyed being able to use the facilities and encourages other students to use it.

“College is what you make out of it,” Slobodecki said. “We live in Wisconsin, so weather is not always the best, but the bubble provides a good space for people to get out of their dorm rooms and have a good time.”

Dirth said the Rec Plex has been used by a wide variety of groups on weekends.

“There are clubs, developmental programs from Green Bay down to Milwaukee and adult softball leagues who play overnight through Sunday,” Dirth said. “[The Rec Plex] gets hundreds of adults who stay in Gruenhagen Conference Center (GCC). It’s a neat opportunity to showcase the campus and have people lodge at GCC.”

Marcoe said he agrees that the Rec Plex showcases the university well and aids in enrollment.

“I think that Rec Plex has been a huge recruiting tool for the university,” Marcoe said. “There are numerous tours from athletics and the university in the dome. We also hold a number of youth programs through the non-university groups that bring a lot of people that will hopefully look back on those tournaments and events with fond memories and help sway them to come to UWO.”

The bubble will now be staying up year-round. When it was originally built, Dirth said it was not able to be classified as a permanent structure, and the structure would go up and down each season.

The structure was modeled off similar domes at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, which the SRWC observed to estimate costs of the tentative facility here.

“It was not the cost that we projected – it was a lot more,” Dirth said. “Through the work of facilities management, we were able to get the dome classified as a permanent structure. The next step for us is going to try and use some of the savings to get it so that it’s cool.”

In the cold months, the facility is heated, but Dirth said they are looking to add in a cooling system to make the facility just as appealing in the hot months to cool down in while enjoying being active.

“I really want students to feel good going to the dome,” Dirth said. “I really encourage students to go join a sports club, join an intramural team and play their favorite sport during our open time. It’s the only one in the UW system that there is. It’s a great resource that our students have.”