By RUSSELL HUFFMAN
October 15, 2019
New Tarleton State president Dr. James Hurley is as colorful as the striped socks that peek out from under his suit pants when he talks about what is in store for the university in the very near future, including a horseshoe-style expansion of Wisdom Gym and a nearby parking garage.
Hurley was appointed as the 16th president at Tarleton in August of this year, and since that time there has been a whirlwind of activity with last week’s announcement the university’s sports programs are moving up to the NCAA D1 level next year.
During an informal meeting Monday, Hurley said he had encountered nothing but positive feedback since the announcement, and he had also been fielding questions concerning potential increases in student tuition, student ticket prices, and perhaps number one on many minds the issue of parking so fans can attend games.
The decision to move to NCAA D1 hasn’t come lightly for Tarleton, and it’s come with more than 20 years of probing, research, almosts and now finally a rock-solid commitment to make the step.
Over the next three years, expect TSU to begin more construction (perhaps even in housing the next 1-2 years) to make all of this happen. The addition of a parking garage is going to come with a long-term plan to cover its costs, and few building projects have as low a return as a parking garage.
A rough number at the estimate of construction is around $22,000 per parking space (factor in ramps, reinforcements, etc.), making a garage that’s capable of 500 parking spaces equal $11 million to build. Plans call for the garage to be built across the street from Tarleton’s tennis courts adjacent to Memorial Stadium – I didn’t ask how many spaces the garage’s plans include.
It’s about to be a time in the university’s history where Tarleton will be especially thankful to have a president in place who happens to have a doctorate in educational leadership and finance because a parking garage project could take up to 30 years to get paid off.
It was all of the carefully laid out plans of expansion, including the move to NCAA D1 that excited Dr. Hurley and motivated him to move from being president at Tusculum University in Greenville, Tennessee, to Stephenville where he does admit, “the Texas heat” has been his most significant adjustment.
While no exact details were laid out, Dr. Hurley discussed how the university is now in a 3-5 year timeline for removing the swimming pool on the southern end of Wisdom gym and expanding seating with a horseshoe-style venue for basketball. An aquatic center on campus is now fulfilling the old pool’s original purpose.
Dr. Hurley also pointed out the university no longer has a building capable of seating the entire freshman class, and Wisdom Gym’s expansion will be capable of handling such a crowd.
Sports are only a part of what Tarleton’s future plans hold, and ramping up student recruiting is one of the top agenda items – at least for the next year or two, and then the university will look at its housing situation.
Tarleton was experiencing double-digit growth until a couple of years ago when recruiters cut back when student numbers out-paced housing. The university generally runs 96-100 percent occupancy in student housing with those completing four semesters of school then being eligible to live off-campus.
If the plans hold for only a couple more years of student housing expansion by Tarleton (officials are expecting an immediate increase in students locally) there will also be what Dr. Hurley calls a “win-win situation” for Stephenville housing providers.
Some area housing providers are no way near capacity, as evidenced by the number of move-in specials, first-month free rent offers, and even vehicle giveaways to attract renters have been advertised in the last couple of years.
I am now jumping back to an earlier mentioned question concerning if students will now have to pay to see games? According to Dr. Hurley, that won’t be the case as the price of student admission to sporting events is included in the cost of tuition as it has been in the past.
Money and costs are always at the forefront of such an expansion as Tarleton is taking, and there’s one very lucrative aspect many may overlook. There’s a pile of cash waiting for schools like Tarleton, who are willing to commit to playing more prominent D1 schools on their opening weeks of play.
Within an hour of the release of the news Tarleton was going NCAA D1, Texas Christian University (Yes, that TCU!) contacted TSU officials to begin laying the groundwork for a future game against the Horned Frogs.
How much money is TCU willing to layout for such a game? Let’s say it’s enough to cover the Tarleton football budget for the next three seasons.