Whitaker Field delays keep student staff, club sports waiting

Eric Goodman

In November 2016, Cody Cade was hired to a part-time job with UT Recreational Sports for the spring semester. He has yet to work his first shift.

The Charles Alan Wright Fields at the Berry M. Whitaker Sports Complex, known to many students as Whitaker Fields, have been closed for a $23 million renovation overhaul since October 2015, interfering with intramural sports and employment for students such as Cade, who is an IM control building program assistant.

The fields were supposed to reopen during the fall 2016 semester, said Jennifer Speer, director of communications, assessment and development and IT for UT RecSports.

“Due to some construction and weather delays, (the renovation project) did not meet its anticipated opening date,” Speer said in an email statement. “Austin experienced a wetter fall than normal, starting with a major rain event in August that caused construction delays at a critical time of the project.”

RecSports did not anticipate the construction delays would extend significantly into the spring semester and scheduled a full slate of outdoor IM sports to begin in early February. Consequently, RecSports hired a staff of about 150 part-time student employees like Cade to support the athletics programs throughout the semester.

“When I first got the job I had the intention of working by the beginning of February at the very latest,” said Cade, a physical culture and sports sophomore. “Whenever other jobs came up … I passed on them because I assumed that by this time I’d be two months into the job that I applied for.”

Hugo Eichner, an intramural soccer referee in his fifth semester with RecSports, was hoping to travel to Mexico during spring break but will instead remain stateside, largely because he does not have the income he expected to earn from refereeing before the break.

“We have a pretty big staff, and we’re not working right now, and we want to work,” said Eichner, a chemistry senior.

He added that since RecSports does not intend to outright cancel any IM sports games, referees’ earnings are not lost, but deferred to later in the semester when games take place.

The same is not true for Cade who, as a facilities operations staff member (intramural control building program assistant), cannot recover the hours he would have already worked if the fields had been open.

Cade said RecSports has provided updates on a week-by-week basis about when the fields might reopen, but has shared few specifics about why the facilities remain closed despite the project appearing complete.

Matt Prewett, head coach of the Men’s Club Soccer team, said it’s his understanding that the University is waiting on a final inspection from the city of Austin to approve the fields for student use.

“What you’re dealing with is one bureaucracy waiting on another, which is kind of funny and ironic, but at the same time it’s super annoying,” Prewett said.

Both the men’s and women’s soccer clubs, two of the 10 sports clubs that play or practice at Whitaker Fields, have been forced to temporarily relocate to Caven Lacrosse and Sports Center at Clark Field and other local facilities while Whitaker has been under construction, Prewett said.

“We’ve been patient, we’ve been positive about it,” said Prewett, who described his team as “homeless” in the meantime. “We really hoped it was going to open back up this spring.”

Water irrigation of the fields may be one source of delay in the final stage of the project. The city of Austin had not granted water flow to the fields as of Tuesday night, a city spokesperson said.

SpawGlass Contractors, which has managed the renovation project from the beginning, declined to comment on the cause of the ongoing delays.

RecSports lists Sunday as the start date for the first three outdoor IM sports of the semester: flag football, 7-on-7 soccer and sand volleyball.

The start date has been postponed multiple times this semester, but RecSports referee Jack Lytle, civil engineering sophomore, said he believes IM teams will take the field before spring break. Lytle said he received an email earlier this week allowing referees to fill out availability sheets for Sunday.

“I haven’t (been asked to) fill out an availability sheet this semester yet,” Lytle said. “So I guess it’s looking up now.”