KALAMAZOO -- WMU's athletic director acknowledged on record for the first time Thursday that the university has plans for a new hockey arena, a project that has been heavily rumored for weeks.
In comments to MLive.com/Kalamazoo Gazette, Kathy Beauregard said, "I cannot confirm a new arena," but admitted drawings of a new facility do, indeed, exist.
"There obviously has been a lot of conversation about it," Beauregard told MLive. "There are conversations that are going on that have been going on for a long time regarding the assessment of Lawson Ice Arena. There have been some feasibility studies and some rendering of different options done, but absolutely nothing has been determined or promised on a timeline."
As in, will it be feasible for the school to raise enough private funds to complete the project?
That's the $60 million question.
According to sources, that's the magic number, and a private donor from the Detroit area has pledged $30 million. Sources also say two other private donors have each committed $10 million.
If true, WMU seems well on its way to replacing 40 year-old Lawson Ice Arena.
But, with an estimated $10 million funding gap, it's understandable why school officials are hesitant to talk any further about project details, including a timeline. Sources say WMU would prefer to have shovels in the ground within the next calendar year.
Although school officials remain non-committal about the project in media reports, they have openly talked about it with people in and around the program. Officials reportedly thanked donors for their contributions to the project during a reception at the annual Bronco Hockey Alumni and Friends golf outing in Kalamazoo last weekend. Head coach Andy Murray has also used the new building as a selling point with recruits.
Have to imagine the school's willingness to finally acknowledge the project, at least somewhat publicly, means it's very real and close to happening. Openly promoting the project also serves as a way to shake loose remaining funds.
In related news, Beauregard announced Friday that WMU will proceed with summer renovations to Lawson Ice Arena. An anonymous donor provided $1 million to the school for upgrades to Lawson's scoreboard and video boards.
WMU is also building a new medical school on the strength of a $100 million private donation. Plans to renovate its historic East Campus are also in the works. The school is borrowing $15 million to fund that project.
Rick Shanley is a hockey reporter for SBNation. Follow Rick on Twitter @RickShanley.