WKU's Board of Regents approves move to build new sports medicine complex with Medical Center

Western Kentucky University is partnering with Med Center Health to construct a new sports medicine complex on campus. 

A new sports medicine complex will rise on Western Kentucky University's campus following the announcement of a partnership with Med Center Health and approval from WKU's Board of Regents on Friday. 

Under the partnership's terms, Med Center Health will build and pay for a new complex expected to cost $22 million. Following the meeting, WKU President Gary Ransdell spoke about what WKU stands to gain. 

Ransdell said benefits include a $22 million investment on campus and "major enhancements to our doctorate of physical therapy degree program to put them in concert with a sports medicine and an orthopedic group, partnership with an exceedingly strong health care provider in our community and real asset for our students and our athletic teams going forward."

The complex features a two-story building totaling 57,000 square feet. The first floor of the building will house Med Center Health's sports medicine practice and diagnostic X-ray and rehabilitation services and space for WKU's baseball program, according to a presentation given at the meeting. The building's second floor will be given over to WKU's Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. Renderings for the complex show it situated between the university's football stadium and baseball field. 

The complex also devotes another 83,000 square feet to an indoor rehabilitation and training facility. It's to feature a full-size football practice field, sprint lanes, netting for baseball, softball and golf, a high jump area, a long jump pit and a pole vault pit. 

During a follow-up meeting with reporters later Friday afternoon, Ransdell said the complex will fill in a "missing element" for WKU's athletics. However, he stressed that all students will have access. 

"This will be significant for our outdoor athletic teams for recruiting and for conditioning and training," he said. "It is multi-dimensional and to me really blends student life, academics and athletics in one facility." 

Western Kentucky athletic director Todd Stewart told the Daily News on Friday afternoon that his department has “had a need for an indoor facility for a long time.”

“It’s been the single biggest thing from a facilities standpoint that we don’t have,” Stewart said. “That’s always been a difficult thing to raise money for just because of the cost of it and the details that go into it.

“We never had any traction on something like that. Really what the key was was this overall partnership between The Medical Center and the university.”

Stewart said the “comprehensive nature” of the agreement is what allowed WKU to secure the indoor facility. He mentioned training and recruiting as two of the biggest positives for the athletic department with this deal.

“Especially in January, February when climate becomes an issue, it takes that out of the equation,” Stewart said. “I think it’ll have a huge impact on their ability to train and I think it’ll have a big impact on our coaches’ ability to recruit because not everyone has something like this.

“In fact, more people don’t have it than do. So the fact that we now will I think is just something else that’s very positive that we can sell to our recruits.”

Construction is expected to begin in January 2017 and be complete by late spring in 2018, according to a university news release. 

In exchange for building the complex, WKU will lease the land to Med Center Health for 99 years at $1 per year. WKU will pay all operating expenses for space it uses in the building, while Med Center Health will pay maintenance and operation for its own space.

Additionally, Med Center Health will become the official health care provider for WKU and gain marketing opportunities. Medical benefits for university faculty and staff will be structured to include incentives to use Med Center Health and Enspire Quality Partners. The campus health clinic will also be given over to The Medical Center, which is currently run by Graves-Gilbert Clinic. Ransdell said no buyout will be needed to get out of the current agreement with Graves-Gilbert Clinic. 

Should Med Center Health decide to end the partnership, Ransdell said "they have the option of either putting a wholly owned subsidiary in the space that they occupied in the building ... or they could just gift the whole thing to us." 

If WKU chooses to end the partnership, Med Center Health can choose to sell the building for full market value or lease it to the university. 

"Either way, we'll have a financial obligation if we want out," he said. 

Along with the project, the university's Board of Regents authorized an agreement to sublease space to the University of Kentucky from WKU on the third floor of the WKU/Med Center Health Sciences Complex for a college of medicine. The building is located next to The Medical Center off Nashville Road. 

Before voting to approve the sports medicine complex, regents held a lengthy debate about whether the decision was right for WKU. Ultimately, it was approved with Regents Cynthia Harris, Frederick Higdon, Julie Hinson, Gillard Johnson, Jason McKinney and David Porter voting in its favor. Regents Barbara Burch, Jay Todd Richey, John Ridley and Tamela Smith voted no. Phillip Bale abstained from voting because of a connection with Graves-Gilbert Clinic. 

Much of the meeting involved contentious debate among regents. Bale abstained from voting but read a statement. 

"In my judgment there will be significant fallout involving many constituents of the university if the decision to proceed is made," he said. "Important bridges will be burned. Some of the criticism will be swift and loud. Much more, I'm afraid, will be prolonged and beneath the surface. I have little doubt that it will create a storm of negative controversy that will linger over our campus for years, if not decades, to come." 

Bale went on to say that it could damage relationships, increase health care costs for the university and hurt the university's search for a new president. 

Ridley also opposed the agreement and said there hasn't been enough time to consider a 99-year commitment. 

"This deal is not a bad deal from the standpoint of the vision. This is a bad deal because the timing is wrong," he said. "We have not done enough due diligence." 

Others, such as newly appointed Regent Julie Hinson, encouraged dissenters to look at the decision purely from a business perspective rather than unknown speculations about the impact of the agreement. 

"I think it's strictly a business decision," she said. "That's how we need to look at it." 

— Sports reporter Brad Stephens contributed to this story.

— Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.