A $676,500 proposal to renovate the University of New Mexico football locker room hit a roadblock Tuesday over concerns that the budget-challenged athletic department could better use the money elsewhere.
Athletics officials said UNM’s current lockers are in disrepair, the facility is outdated and a renovation is needed to keep pace with other schools in the Mountain West Conference. Since UNM built its current locker room in 1994, Deputy Athletic Director Brad Hutchins said seven schools in the conference have built new or significantly upgraded their football locker rooms. He added that UNM’s 24-year-old lockers don’t suit today’s players.
“Student-athletes have gotten bigger over the course of the last 20 years, and our lockers are actually too narrow for them,” Hutchins told the UNM Regents Finance & Facilities Committee on Tuesday.
But the plan failed to advance out of the committee as Regent Tom Clifford — one of only two voting members present — said he could not support the expenditure given athletics’ financial challenges.
The university has consistently used its central reserves to cover athletics’ annual shortfalls, and the department’s cumulative deficit stands at $4.7 million. That does not include the $1.3 million in reserves the regents allocated to the department in November — a sum officials are not adding to athletics’ overall tab.
UNM’s locker room funding proposal tapped various sources, athletics Chief Financial Officer Rob Robinson told the committee. That includes $200,000 from Dreamstyle Remodeling’s $10 million naming rights gift, other private donations and capital outlay money. The university would also use $200,000 in interest revenue and $100,000 from future payday football games at Louisiana State University in 2022 and Texas A&M in 2023.
But Clifford contended that UNM could instead use at least some of that money for athletics’ more imminent problems.
“Why aren’t we looking at our operating deficit, which is a higher priority right now?” he said. “This is real money compared to the problems we’re having. I’m not sure why this is coming forward right now.”
Officials had anticipated starting construction this summer and finishing in time for the 2018 season.
Regent Marron Lee noted that Dreamstyle’s Larry Chavez had specifically supported this renovation with his donation and asked Robinson if the project was possible without using funds that could conceivably help with the athletic department’s deficit.
“That has not been discussed. It has only been this funding model,” Robinson said.
While Chavez said athletics has discretion in how it uses most of his gift, he intended $200,000 going to the locker rooms. He said the money should be held for that purpose until UNM can fully fund the renovation.
UNM’s locker rooms are “nothing compared to their (competitors’ facilities),” Chavez said in an interview. “The players spend an enormous amount of time there. It’s kind of their second home.”