New gym plans put a financial burden on students
Published: Thursday, September 5, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 5, 2013 01:09
Another week, another multi-million dollar construction project at UConn. This time it’s a new gym – a 200,000 square foot, $100 million recreation center to be exact. In the plan presented to the Board of Trustees, the gym would be paid for with a new student fee totalling several hundred dollars. The fact that the university needs a new gym is not controversial. Students have been asking for a new gym for years and this project won’t be cheap. Whenever the university does update, it will probably have to cost the students something, but the current plan is a burden on students and simply doesn’t make sense.
Not every student uses the gym, while every student already pays a much smaller fee that goes toward the gym facilities, asking everyone to pay $400-$500 is ridiculous. That amounts to a 4 percent overall tuition increase for all students, including the 25 percent of undergrads and 95 percent of grad students who live off campus. The fee is especially unfair to those commuters who are less likely to use the gym.
Even for students who are interested in going to the gym, the huge student fee is a bad policy. Most gyms used by college students cost far less than $500 a year. Of the six gyms or fitness centers with 15 miles of UConn, none had monthly rates over $25. Membership for a school year, even to the most expensive gym in the area, would be about $200 less than half the student fee.
While most students don’t have the means to leave campus regularly, the price comparison shows just how excessive the fee is. Students would be getting more than the average gym provides – there have been rumors about hot tubs and juice bars – but it still doesn’t make any sense for UConn, especially given the school’s drive to present itself as a serious academic institution.
Most of the largest renovations and construction projects of the past decade have cost less than the proposed recreation facility. Some comparable expenditures have been the Pharmacy/Biology building, which cost $93 million, and the Torrey Life Sciences Building at $125 million. Most other major projects, such as the new Engineering Building coming in 2015, which will cost $62 million, are far less expensive than the gym.
It would be keeping with the University’s athletic obsession to spend more on a gym than on classrooms, but if the proposal goes through one of the most expensive projects at UConn will be funded entirely by student fees.
We came close to getting a new gym in 2007, when the state gave UConn $31 million for “intramural, recreational and intercollegiate facilities.” All of that $31 million was put towards the $49 million Burton Family Football complex, with none allocated for intramural or recreational facilities for the rest of the student body. The center gets limited use by certain teams and clubs, but most students have never seen the inside of the Burton complex. According to a UConn 2000 report from 2007, the 170,000 square foot facility contains training rooms, locker rooms, dining facilities, a lounge, strength and conditioning rooms and an indoor practice field.
This is what students want, and Susan Herbst has said the university can provide, if the students are willing to pay. When asked why a student fee was chosen to fund the project, Herbst said, “We absolutely will not put this burden on taxpayers and we can’t reallocate money from the academics bucket.” Herbst is right that the gym shouldn’t be funded out of taxpayer or academic money, but what she’s really saying is that the university doesn’t have the funds for this project, but still wants it to happen. The university claims they’re doing us a favor by finally building a gym, but they squandered money given to them for that purpose six years ago, and now that it’s convenient they’ll jam this unpopular proposal through and tell us it’s what we asked for.
I’m all in favor of modern facilities, but there has to be a better way to do this. Iowa State University renovated their 66,595 square foot gym last year, which serves a student body almost 20% larger than UConn’s, for $46 million. The popularity of the current gym (2,500 students use it daily) means that a private gym or pay-as-you-go structure would have a good chance of working. A rec facility plan similar to a dining hall plan that gave only paying students access on some days of the week could also work.
All of these options still increase cost for students, but not as heavily. Most students will probably be willing to pay an increased fee for a new gym, but it shouldn’t be such an enormous one. A good number of UConn students, especially those with tight budgets, have something better to do with $500 than contribute it to the juice bar/climbing wall/admissions attraction fund. The university should keep that and its main focus of education in mind when deciding what’s best for students.