The college has abandoned plans for a €14 million development of sporting facilities on campus. The plans included a new 400 meter running track, a refurbishment of the existing Sports Centre, and a new multi-purpose facility extension onto the current sport centre.
The aspirational plans were to be a second phase of investment following the construction of the €50 million new Student Centre, gym, and 50-meter swimming pool in 2013, which were funded by the ‘Student Centre levy’ UCD students have paid since 2007.
A college internal report ‘UCD Sport Precinct: Creating a National Resource’ compiled in 2011 revealed plans to seek ‘modest state investment’ towards a phase of sports capital projects. The report had outlined that UCD could seek €10 million from the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport to go towards a new multi-purpose training facility and the redevelopment of the existing Sports Centre. However, the aspirational plans were never acted upon by UCD management.
Ambitions to build a new running track on the Belfield campus however were given the go ahead, and a private project report and an internal feasibility study were conducted. UCD closed the running track by the Stillorgan end of campus in November 2011. In May 2012 APNA consultants completed a project report on a proposed new athletics track by the Clonskeagh end of campus. The proposed 400-meter synthetic track it was estimated would cost €2.6 million. In mid 2012 the university applied for a €864,500 grant of funding towards the track from the Department of Tourism and Sport, but was rejected.
Then Minister for Sport Leo Varadkar revealed he was ‘at the receiving end of some aggressive lobbying’ from UCD over their application for funding, according to emails he sent to his staff obtained by the Tribune under the FOI act.
Running Track Grant Deined
The university applied under the Department’s Sports Capital grant programme, which provides funding to sports clubs for projects. However, UCD’s application scored ‘poorly’ according to results from the grant office. Department officials noted that there is already an existing running track in Irishtown, near Sandymount and another track in Morton, Swords.
The grant office outlined that UCD had up to €100 million in funding available at the time, but had only proposed to put €1.7 million towards the track. The officials concluded that the project was ‘well within the scope for [UCD] to complete without’ the government funding.
“The officials concluded that the project was ‘well within the scope for [UCD] to complete without’ the government funding”
The university’s 2012 internal feasibility report warned the continued absence of an athletics track ‘would have negative effects on student recruitment and retention, by limiting the range of sports in which students could participate in’. The report also stated ‘it would reduce UCD’s attractiveness to elite athletes to a substantial extent’.
The old athletics track was built in 1972, and its surface was re-laid in 1991. Reports obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the track ‘has reached the end of its useful life’ and ‘was no longer safe for athletes to use’.
The university’s application for funding highlighted that the absence of elite athletics facilities is ‘a significant gap currently’ on campus. UCD claimed that ‘it is likely the new track will be provided at some future time; however, given the pressure on university funding at present, it is not possible to predict when this may occur’.
The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport were also critical of UCD’s claims that a running track was a priority. Department documents state that despite the college rating the project as ‘high priority’, they ‘dug up the previous track without a replacement first being put in place, which would suggest the college did not prioritise [having] a track’. The government refused to grant UCD the €864,500 grant towards the planned new track in early 2013. Previously the college received €1.3 million to redevelop the Belfield Bowl football stadium in 2006, and €700,000 from the Department for a new hockey stadium in 2003.
Speaking to the Tribune the director of UCD Estates Aidan Grannell said the university has been preparing a ‘strategy for future sports developments’ since early 2016. The group will be looking to engage with students and sports clubs on potential future ‘sports infrastructure’ developments, including ‘athletics running track facilities’ Grannell claimed. Dominic O’Keefe as director of Student Services is responsible for sporting facilities.
Sports Centre Refurbishment
Other plans for a new €8 million multi-purpose training facility, and a €4 million refurbishment of the Sport Centre were also shelved by UCD. The new indoor training building it was imagined would be built as an extension to the current Sports Centre; out into the space by the 142 bus stop. The facility would include 120-meter sprint lanes, long and triple jump pits, and high jump and pole vaulting pits. The project is referenced in the current administration’s ambitious ‘campus capital development plan’ for 2016 to 2026, but it is not believed to be a priority for the university management.
The redevelopment of the existing Sports Centre has also been long-fingered by the university. The Fitzgerald Kavanagh architect firm drew up plans to modernise the Sports Centre, which was originally build in the 1980s. The blueprints look at bringing the style and facility quality of the Sports Centre up to the level of the new Student Centre. Property management company KSN reviewed the existing facilities in November 2013 and found them to be in poor condition. The review, seen by the Tribune, suggested updating the squash courts, halls, toilets and changing rooms, dance studio, and staircases. The KSN report advised the college to put €870,000 towards upgrading the facilities.
Director of Sport in UCD Brian Mullins said the lack of funding has meant the resources aren’t available to redo the entire Sports Centre, outside of small ‘patch-up jobs’. ‘I’d love for someone to come along and say – here’s the funding’ to invest in UCD Sports services and facilities, ‘but the money’s just not there’ he stated. The running track, new multi-purpose training facility, and extensive refurbishment of the Sports Centre aren’t currently happening outlined Mullins.
‘Aggressive Lobbying’ of Sports Minister Leo Varadkar
The Tribune can reveal UCD launched a significant and ‘aggressive’ lobbying campaign aimed at securing government funding for the proposed athletics track in 2012. The college requested letters of support from organisations such as Special Olympics, Paralympics, Athletics Ireland, Dundrum Athletics club, as well as former local Fine Gael TDs Peter Mathews and Olivia Mitchell. These lobbying letters of support were released under the FOI act to the Tribune. Email released to the Tribune, show then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar stated he was ‘at the receiving end of some aggressive lobbying’ from UCD over the track funding.
Former UCD President Hugh Brady also wrote to Michael Ring TD in 2012, who was minister for state with responsibility for sport. Brady claimed that ‘UCD’s 25,000 students are, not unreasonably, upset that the €50 million in funding provided for sport and leisure facilities by the students has not yet been matched by any government funding’.
The former UCD President also attacked deputy Ring’s ministerial advisor Paul McGrath in the letter. Paul McGrath, a former TD for Longford-Westmeath had raised issues over whether the title of ownership of the land by Richview had been officially registered with the state. The Department require applicants to fully own the land they are applying for funding to develop on. Brady stated that ‘issues raised by Mr McGrath are without substance. Historically it was not compulsory for UCD to register its titles … I felt it important to reassure you regarding the issues raised lest funding for an important regional project is withheld for spurious reasons’.
‘I should also point out that UCD has a long track record of working with government departments to utilise funding on time and within budget’.
Jack Power Editor