MU rec center upsets faculty

Employees criticize membership costs and the appearance of the new facility.
Thursday, June 23, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:15 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

When Stephen Stanton, a library information specialist at MU, found out his membership fee at the new Student Recreation Complex would triple, he was disgusted.

“I started looking for another place to go as soon as I received the brochure,” Stanton said.

Stanton eventually decided to hold on to his membership, which has jumped from $10 a month to $29 a month, but many others did not.

The department of recreation services and facilities, which oversees the complex, does not completely determine the rates for faculty, staff and retirees. This is done through a series of moves involving Missouri Students Association, MU Recreation Advisory Committee and professional staff recommendations.

But Director Diane Dahlmann and others at recreation services are trying to accommodate students, faculty and staff alike as the final phase of the expansion project is completed.

Many of these concerns stem from some faculty members feeling left out of the process. Students mandated the gym’s fees, layout and amenities. For example, they wanted an integrated sound systems and a specialized cycling cave.

“I don’t know that faculty would have had a say because it’s a student-initiated initiative,” said Loren Nikolai, chairman of the Campus Recreation Committee. “Students are the ones who funded it, and it is the student rec center.”

Before students approved the $49.2 million renovation and addition in a 2001 referendum, student leaders drafted an agreement saying that nonstudent memberships should match, if not exceed, the annual mandatory student fee, which covers fall, winter and summer semesters. Nonstudents are people who are connected to the university community, not the general public.

Several faculty and staff members, including Stanton and Keith Eggener, an associate professor of art history, have considered the expenditure exorbitant and unnecessary at a time when positions and programs are being cut at the university.

Eggener said he doesn’t think the faculty was taken into consideration in the decision to raise fees.

“For faculty, this is an optional fee,” said Jason Blunk, chairman of the student fee review committee for MSA. “If they choose to pay for a membership, that’s their choice. Columbia has other options for them. Is it fair for students to have to pay more than someone else? Is it fair for students to pay for someone else’s membership?”

Student fees cover about 65 percent of the operating budget for the complex, Dahlmann said. Nonstudent membership sales, TigerX fitness classes, personal training, event management building rental, upscale Rothwell Club memberships and other sources generate the remaining 35 percent.

James McGlew, an associate professor of classical studies, said he isn’t as concerned about the fee as he is about the design of the building.

“It doesn’t look at all like an energy-efficient building to me,” McGlew said. “The consumption of energy sounds excessive. It’s a fantastic facility, but it would be all the better if some of the lights were shut off, and the air conditioning in the locker rooms were turned way down.”

Dahlmann said all of the lights and equipment need to be turned on and cycled through because none of the equipment has been used before, but everything gets turned off when the building is closed.

“Right now, we are running everything as much as possible to make sure our systems are sound and solid,” Dahlmann said. “While we have a crew here, it’s far easier to make adjustments and corrections and even replacements.”

Some faculty members don’t like how the complex is decorated. Eggener, for one, has dropped his membership.

“Though the facilities are wonderful, they’re also kind of obscene,” Eggener said. “It’s like a Las Vegas casino in there with fake palm trees and widescreen plasma TVs everywhere. It’s excessive.”

David Schenker, an associate professor of classical studies, said the design of the complex does not primarily appeal to faculty.

“You know how in some shopping malls, the organizers start playing Mozart to drive away the teenagers?” Schenker said. “Well, there, we’ve got the music that’s blaring in the locker rooms and the halls, and the faculty are being driven out by that.”

Cathy Scroggs, vice chancellor of student affairs, acknowledged that the atmosphere may be more appropriate for students.

“I think the environment you’ll find in there is very high-energy,” Scroggs said. “It’s tailored to the student population, but that doesn’t mean that faculty and staff wouldn’t want to be there or couldn’t be there.”

Beyond that, some faculty members contend that the complex is not family-friendly. The gym offers free admission to family members for three hours on Friday nights.

Eggener said this policy is exclusionary.

Dahlmann said student traffic would have to be examined to determine whether family opportunities and hours would be expanded. Scroggs said family hours probably won’t be extended because of high student volume.

Some faculty members have wondered whether they can buy a pool-only membership. Recreation services said it’s unlikely.

“It is one facility and all of the features are now under one roof,” Dahlmann said. “It is next to impossible to secure segregated space with consistency that would be fair for all.”

Recreation services is working on a proposal, however, to offer a limited-access membership program during off-peak times, specifically early morning hours, for a lower fee.

“We’ve done some things within the facility that have been a response to our nonstudent member voices,” Dahlmann said.

These provisions include a quiet fitness room, more performance studios and extra aquatic space.

“That doesn’t mean this is where these individuals need to work out,” she said. “But it’s an option.”

Dahlmann said although the aquatic side of the center is officially open, the entire complex is not. To those who are critical or disappointed with the complex, she said advises withholding judgment until fall semester when the student recreation complex is completely outfitted and running.

“I think a greater number of individuals, when we move into August and September, will certainly feel that their concerns have been attended to,” Dahlmann said.

“We’re working hard to address the concerns, and we’re doing that carefully and cautiously ,” she said. “I think that the face of the facility and the facility users and the opportunities that we’ll be able to provide two or three months from now, I think it could be a lot different.”

Blunk said the building was not designed with faculty foremost in mind.

“The student recreation complex’s primary clients are the 27,000 undergraduate and graduate students on our campus,” he said.

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