Meetings Scheduled to Discuss Potential New Student Recreation Facility

Update 4/23/13: The Board of Trustees meeting will begin at 10:30 a.m. on April 24 in the Rome Ballroom, not 11 a.m. as previously stated. Anyone who wishes to address the board during the meeting on April 24 needs to arrive a few minutes before 10:30 a.m. and sign up to speak.

Students exercising at the Student Recreation Facility, gym, on February 29, 2012. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Students exercising at the Student Recreation Facility gym at the Field House. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

UConn’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) is sponsoring two town hall meetings about the possibility of a new student recreation facility/fitness center at UConn. The town hall meetings will be held on Tuesday, April 16, and Wednesday, April 17, between 4 and 6 p.m. in the Konover Auditorium at the Dodd Research Center.

Panelists will include Richard Gray, executive vice president for administration and chief financial officer; Mun Choi, provost; Laura Cruickshank, master planner and chief university architect; and Cynthia Costanzo, executive director of recreation services.

They will listen to the views and opinions of students on the issue and answer questions. The meeting will include discussion on the need for a modern recreation/fitness center on the Storrs campus, what a new facility could include, the likely timeline for such a project if approved, and how it would be funded.

All students are invited to attend.

This Q&A on the subject may be useful for those who plan to attend the meetings:

Q: Why does the University want to build a new student recreation center?
A: UConn’s current student recreation facility is small, inadequate, and does not meet the needs and demands of our student population. For a period of years – more than a decade – students have consistently expressed the desire for a modern recreation center that is on par with the facilities that many of UConn’s peer institutions and competitors offer. As we work to recruit and keep the very best students – who have no shortage of options – being able to offer quality student services that are on par with our competitors is essential. It is a “missing piece” on the Storrs campus.

Q: How much would it cost to build a facility like that? How would it be paid for?
A: It is estimated to be in the range of $100 million. A student fee specific to this project would go to pay off a 30-year bond and to operate the facility.

Q: Would students have to begin paying the fee as soon as the board approves it?
A: No. If approved, the building will take a period of years to design and build and would likely not open until sometime in 2016. The fee would not be charged to students until the building opens its doors in 2016, meaning many current students would never pay this fee.

Q:  How much would the fee be?
A: It is estimated that the fee would be in the range of $400 to $500 a year for full-time undergraduates and between $300 and $400 for full-time graduate students, including graduate assistants. Part-time students would pay less. This is modeled after the way the General University Fee (GUF) is charged. The existing facilities (including current recreational sports programming) are supported by the GUF.

Q: That is about $33 to $41 a month for undergrads and $25 to $33 a month for grads. Isn’t that more than some gym memberships cost?

A: It is very important to understand that if the University does move ahead with a new recreation center, it will be much more than a large room with exercise equipment in it – which is what the standard gym offers. A new facility could include:

  • A 50-meter, 8-lane pool and aquatics center
  • An extensive cardiovascular and strength training space
  • A Wellness Center; dedicated space for special populations programming, such as weight loss and exercise programs
  • Seven multipurpose group exercise areas, including space for cycling, yoga, dance, martial arts, spin cycling, etc.
  • An extensive simulated outdoor recreation area, including bouldering and climbing
  • Club sports practice and competition space
  • Extensive recreation space including basketball courts, Multi-purpose Activity Court, racquetball, squash, etc.
  • Leisure recreation activity areas, such as a game room, ping pong, table tennis, etc.
  • Synthetic turf field for use by Recreation Services – especially intramurals and club sports for practice and competition
  • A jogging track
  • Showers and locker rooms
  • It could also include lounges, juice bars, and event and activity spaces.

Q: Why does there need to be a student fee to pay for it? Why can’t something else pay for it?
A: Generally, there are three ways a new or renovated facility could be paid for on campus: UConn 2000/21st Century UConn funds, a state appropriation/capital investment, or a student fee. All UConn 2000/21st Century UConn funding has already been spent or has been allocated for other purposes. There is little chance that leaders in state government would even consider devoting $100 million, or some part of it, to building a student recreation facility on campus, particularly in light of the state’s fiscal problems and the fact that a new $1.5 billion-plus investment in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education at UConn has been proposed to add strength to the state’s workforce and fuel economic development. That leaves a student fee.

Q: Why don’t we just build a much smaller building? Wouldn’t that be cheaper?
A: If the University is going to move forward with a major undertaking such as this, the goal is to do it right the first time rather than downsize and create a building that is too small and obsolete the day it opens, which would not only not solve the problem we face today – an inadequate facility – but it would also leave it to future generations to remedy our shortsightedness.

Q: Couldn’t the Foundation defray the cost through private fundraising?
A: A bond will be necessary to fund the construction costs, and then be repaid in full over 30 years. To secure the loan, a consistent, reliable source of funding such as a fee is required. Private fundraising is not sufficiently predictable. Receipts derived from pledges of private donations, which are also typically paid over time, might conceivably reduce the amount borrowed or interest expense, depending on timing. Based on our ability to secure private funds for similar facilities such as the Student Union, we believe significant donor support is unlikely. Waiting until even a portion of $100 million is raised would likely guarantee that the project would not move forward for many years, if ever.

Q: This will increase the cost of attending the university. How will this affect financial aid?
A: When determining the financial aid package to offer students, the University considers the whole cost of attending the University – including mandatory fees, regardless of what the fees pay for.

Q: If student fees rise above a certain level, won’t that endanger the ability of international graduate students to attend UConn?
A: An increase in student fees affects all students, not just international students. The ability of international students to attend UConn would be affected only if the total cost of attendance, including fees, exceeded the usual stipends offered to entering graduate students. The University will monitor both the cost of attendance and stipend levels accordingly.

Q: Graduate student stipends have not increased in two years and now you are talking about instituting a new fee on top of what they already pay?
A: Graduate students stipends will increase by 4 percent in the fall of 2013. Also, when considering the level of graduate student stipends in future years, the level of fees that graduate students must pay will be taken into consideration.

Q: Not everyone would use this building. Why does everyone have to pay for it?
A: Most of the costs associated with operating the University are shared by all students; there is not a “fee-for-use” model for facilities and services based on which students use them, as this would be completely unworkable. There are services, facilities, and programs that some students will use while others will not, but in order for them to exist at all, the cost of supporting them must be shared. For example, a resident of a town could look at their municipal budget and point out many services and facilities the town offers that they as residents do not use, yet their taxes still go to support those services just the same, because there is no other practical way to fund them.

Q: If UConn’s student population increases – which it will if Next Generation Connecticut is passed – would having more students paying the fee mean it could be reduced?
A: If Next Generation Connecticut is passed, the Storrs student population would grow by approximately 5,000 students by 2024. The University would have the option of reducing the fee charged as the population grows, or charging the same fee and paying off the bond earlier than expected and save on interest costs in the long-run. Additionally, operating and programming costs will increase as the population grows, and these costs are funded by the fee as well.

Q: Once the building is built, will students be charged for memberships? Or will new fees be instituted to pay for equipment?
A: No, students will not be charged to use the facility and the total cost of the facility – including equipment and staff – would be built into the one fee.

Q: Could faculty, staff, and alumni buy memberships and help defray the cost to students?
A: The University anticipates that faculty and staff memberships will rise with a new facility, and that expected revenue is already built into the formula that is used to calculate the student fee.

Q: Will this be for all students’ use at all times, or are there times when portions of the building will be for use by varsity athletes only, for example?
A: The building will be for all students’ use at all times. No portion of the building will be set aside to serve any specific group of students, including varsity athletes.

Q: Who decides whether or not students will pay this fee?
A: For an institutional fee such as this, the University would make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees and the board would vote on whether or not to approve the project and the fee to fund it.

Q: How can students share their views on this with the University?
A: There will be two town hall-style meetings held on April 16 and 17 from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Konover Auditorium in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. All students are welcome to attend to share their views with VP for Administration and Chief Financial Officer Richard Gray, Provost Mun Choi, Master Planner & Chief University Architect Laura Cruickshank, and Director of Recreation Services Cynthia Costanzo. Such public meetings are required by university bylaws before any vote to create or adjust student fees is taken.

Q: Can we share our views with the board before the semester is over?
A: Yes. At the beginning of each board meeting there is a period devoted to public comment. Anyone who wishes to address the board during its next meeting on April 24 needs to arrive a few minutes before the meeting begins at 10:30 a.m. in the Rome Ballroom and sign up to speak. There is a two minute maximum per speaker to allow for as many speakers as possible during the time allotted.
If someone is not able to attend these meetings, they can also share their views by writing to the board through this link: http://boardoftrustees.uconn.edu/contact-uconn/ or to:

UConn Board of Trustees
352 Mansfield Road, Unit 2048
Storrs, CT 06269-1048

Q: If the University does recommend the project and related fee to the board, when would it be voted on?
A: The fee would be voted on during a future board meeting, but after the board meeting that will be held on April 24.