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At the northeast corner of the Sonoma State campus sits the Donald & Maureen Green Music Center, the in-progress jewel of the university with its "Tanglewood-style" concert hall, recording facilities and restaurant.

The project, which appears headed for completion after a $12 million gift from philanthropists Joan and Sandy Weill, is not universally popular on campus. But it is generally perceived as a step forward for SSU, a cultural landmark that will raise the university's stature.

Drive maybe a quarter-mile south, though, across Copeland Creek on Redwood Drive, and you come to the other side of the tracks — Sonoma State's cluster of less-than-lustrous athletic facilities.

The Wolves' Den, the school's 1969 gymnasium, is in need of upgraded locker rooms and a mix of retractable plastic benches and theater-style seats to replace the current wooden bleachers. The baseball, softball and soccer fields really should have lights and all-weather artificial surfaces, not to mention new restrooms and public address systems. The aquatics center could use a new 50-meter pool, and the running track and south tennis courts need to be resurfaced.

Sonoma State is a highly regarded institution in many ways. But its track is so decrepit that it can't be used for meets, and a recent baseball double-header was held at Santa Rosa Junior College because the SSU field was unplayable after heavy rains.

In light of the Weills' generous donation and the Green Center's stability, the SSU athletic department could be forgiven for asking: Is it our turn now?

Erik Greeny, associate vice president for development at Sonoma State, acknowledges that a strong athletic program is an important part of the college experience for students.

"It enhances the brand. It enhances the region," Greeny said. "There's nothing like having a championship team on the road, playing a tournament in Florida or Hawaii. What better marketing tool is there than athletics?"

Unfortunately, there probably won't be money raining from the sky on the Sonoma State athletic program anytime soon. According to university officials, athletic funding was never on hold, at least not because of the Green Center. It's just another victim of bad economic times.

"I don't anticipate a huge breakthrough," SSU director of athletics Bill Fusco said. "The donors we had to the Green Center are a different type of donor than we might get in the athletic department."

The Sonoma State athletic program has not been entirely neglected. The university replaced the maple floor in the Wolves' Den in the summer of 2000, at a cost of $330,000, and resurfaced the six north tennis courts in 2008 for $125,000. The baseball and softball teams have funding in place for an indoor batting and pitching facility, and SSU is talking to the city of Rohnert Park about an all-weather soccer and lacrosse project.

But the improvements have been sporadic and hard-earned, usually cobbled together with small grants and odd ends of university funding.

The SSU athletic department must be envious when it sees projects like the student recreation complex at Cal State Stanislaus. Opened 18 months ago, it's a $16 million project that includes a 5,000-seat track and soccer stadium and a 20,000-square-foot fitness center for student use.

Stanislaus led NCAA Division II in soccer attendance last year, and since the grand opening has twice hosted the CCAA soccer championships. This May it will host the Division II national track-and-field championships.

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

According to Cal State Stanislaus director of athletics Milton Richards, hosting such an event fills more than 500 hotel rooms in Turlock, generating nearly $1 million in revenue. It also adds to the prestige of the institution.

"The whole complex fixed that side of campus," Richards said. "This facility did a lot for the department, and for the university."

Sonoma State administrators — and Rohnert Park officials — would love to see their school hosting thousands of out-of-towners, too.

The CSU Stanislaus project was financed through student fees, after students there passed a referendum with a 70-percent vote. That isn't likely to happen at Sonoma State anytime soon, because students here have already voted to raise funds for a new student center.

Unlike SRJC or area high schools, Sonoma State can't use local bond measures to fund capital projects. Instead, the university must rely on a combination of Cal State funding and private donations. Much of it might come from small-scale donors giving anything from $25 to $2,500. But Greeny believes he can find an athletic booster to match the scale of the Weills or Donald and Maureen Green.

"Yes, there is a donor out there like the Greens," he said. "There is always a donor for something — it's just a matter of finding that person. ... And we have lines in the water. It takes time, but sometimes it all happens quickly."

With luck, it will happen before the SSU track turns to dust and blows away.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

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