New recreation facility to be paid for in student fees once open
The undergraduate student fee could be up to $250 dollars per semester, starting in 2016
Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 22:09
The University of Connecticut Board of Trustees is poised to approve construction of a $100 million recreation facility that will be paid for in student fees.
If the board decides to act at their meeting on Wednesday morning, it will likely approve a per-semester fee of $244 per undergraduate student and $180 per graduate student in order to fund the project.
The fee, however, would not go into effect until the doors of the new recreation facility are opened, which Michael Kirk – the deputy chief of staff to University President Susan Herbst - said will likely be sometime in 2016.
“That fee will (fund) everything from beginning to end: the people who work there, the equipment, the building itself, the energy and water to keep the building running and open,” Kirk said. “But nobody would pay any fees to that building until it actually opens its doors.”
Kirk said there has been discussion of including a “grandfather clause” into the resolution the Board of Trustees may pass approving the student fee.
“No student who is current as of the spring of 2013 would be required to pay this fee if they’re still here in (2016),” Kirk said.
The idea, Kirk added, is that only students who enroll in UConn knowing they will shoulder the fee will be required to pay it.
Cynthia Costanzo, the executive director of the department of recreational services, said that of the other universities she has looked at during the planning process thus far, the overwhelming majority of them have used student fees to pay for the project.
Kirk said that the alternatives, such as seeking state funds or private grants, were not feasible. The state has already committed to invest $1.5 billion in UConn over the next 10 years under the Next Generation UConn legislation passed this summer, and Kirk said “the reception we would get form the legislature (asking) for another $100 million would not be a good one.” He also added that private funds are difficult to generate for purposes outside of varsity athletics or academics.
Even though a student fee is likely to be unpopular considering already high tuition rates, Kirk said the project is not a knee jerk reaction.
“This all came about as a result of a decade’s worth of student complaints,” Kirk said. “The current facility is way past its prime. It’s too small.”
Kirk and Costanzo are members of a working group involved in precursory planning before the Board of Trustees gives the project approval. Other members of their working group include Richard Gray – the executive vice president for administration – and Lara Cruickshank – the university’s master planner and chief architect.
Costanzo said the current recreation facility was built in the 1950s, and at 22,000 square feet it’s made to service fewer than 2,500 students per day.
But Costanzo said usage has been exceeding those levels, and with enrollment expected to increase over the next few years, to about 25,000 from just more than 20,000 currently, it would be impossible to service the estimated 20 to 25 percent of students that will use an on-campus recreation facility.
The board was presented with two options at its meeting in August: a $100.9 million, 200,000 square foot facility and an $83.2 million, 160,000 square foot facility.
Costanzo said the new building would easily be able to service upwards of 5,000 students a day.
“We would meet our current as well as our expected student population needs,” she said.
Exactly what will go into the facility is an open question that Kirk said cannot be answered until the board gives the project a green light. But he said if it is approved, the planning process will be transparent.
“We will put together a whole student committee of graduate and undergraduate students to be part of this planning process and find out what students want,” he said. He added the committee would be formed “almost immediately” following board approval.
In anticipation of this, Costanzo and Kirk said they held a meeting with the Undergraduate Student Government Executive Board – which includes Student Body President Edward Courchaine and Vice President Kara Googins – earlier this month.
Courchiane and Googins have already deemed the recreation facility a priority this semester, and Kirk said the project’s planners will be open and receptive to student input.
Costanzo said priorities include providing space for club sports to practice as well as providing hardwood courts that would not be cut off from student use at various times for varsity sports practice – something Costanzo said is a source of frustration among gym-goers at the current recreation facility.
But Costanzo and Kirk said there are numbers to crunch before blueprints are made.
The proposed location on Farmer Brown and X Lot will need infrastructure put in to provide utilities to the facility. Kirk said the cost of this has not been determined, nor how it will be paid for.
Additionally, because Farmer Brown and X Lot are currently used for student parking, UConn’s director of transportation, William Wendt, said making up for the displaced parking is something to be considered.
Though Kirk said adding parking infrastructure into the recreation facility is an option, Wendt said the construction phase would still present a problem.
“It’s a big number of parking spots: in the neighborhood of 1,000,” Wendt said.
“So, we’ll have to figure out where 1,000 people are going to park during construction. We don’t have the planning process going yet, but we’re doing a lot of data collection.”
The Next Generation UConn fund does have money allocated for the purpose of building another parking garage on UConn’s campus, but Wendt said that project was written into the legislation as happening further down along the 10-year NextGen timeline.