Legislature kills rec center

By Steve Gehrke and Patrick Muir

Students looking to run laps and lift weights may have to stick with the Field House and HPER building after the Utah State Legislature killed a bond request Thursday.

In a 5 to 3 vote, the Capital Facilities and Administrative Services Appropriations Subcommittee denied the bonding necessary to build the state-of-the-art facility on campus.

The project would have added a 14,000 square-foot weight and fitness room, a rock climbing wall, a juice bar and a social lounge. The center was touted by many on campus, including President Michael Young, as an important step in keeping students on campus for increased interaction and learning.

The Associated Students of the University of Utah persuaded some legislators with their argument that the recreation center could become a gathering place for students.

“I think part of the university experience is to have a more complete opportunity that you wouldn’t have without a student recreation center,” said Rep. Fred Hunsaker, R-Logan. “I’d emphasize that (students) are voting themselves a student fee. I trust and respect their right to do that.”

But Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan, disagreed and said input he received indicated students didn’t want the recreation center.

“That building failed today because of the response and the comments we’ve received back from students on a couple issues,” Harper said.

U representatives were surprised by that response that contradicted a 2004 survey by Rocky Mountain Data, an independent surveying company contracted by the U to poll students about the proposed recreation center.

Those results showed that 67 percent of the students supported the $60 per semester fee to aid the center construction and upkeep. In addition, both the Board of Trustees and the Board of Regents approved the motion in 2005.

Because students-not the state-would pay for the building, many expected the center would receive a good bond rating and pass through the Legislature.

Harper said he and his fellow legislators on the committee did not approve the bonding and subsequent student fee increase because such a move would be seen as “an increase to the cost of education by the Legislature via student fees.”

But Hunsaker, who voted to authorize the $35 million revenue bond, said he didn’t see it as a fee being imposed on students, rather one they would impose on themselves that would be accepted by the Legislature.

“I do not endorse the concept that we need to play the role of big brother-that philosophy of because I’m a legislator, I know best,” Hunsaker said. “I have great trust and respect for student government and its ability to make good decisions and where to spend their money.”

Harper said the move would be in direct competition to private enterprise.

“The appropriate way to approach the issue is to contract with Gold’s Gym or 24 Hour Fitness to operate a facility on campus as they do at several other schools in the nation,” Harper said. “It just doesn’t follow through with what a college should be doing based on private enterprise and the increased cost of education.”

Hunsaker, who serves on the state privatization policy board, said he did not see this as a competition with the private sector because there is no private gym or recreation center prepared to step up and build a $35 to $40 million building on the U campus.

Student-body Vice President John Poelman said the main concern among legislators was that students are willing to raise their own fees by $60 per semester for perks, but are not open to tuition increases.

“We tried to articulate to them that there is a definite balance and that we understand tuition increases have to happen, and we support them being (minimal),” Poelman said. “But at the same time we don’t want to sacrifice the quality of our college education and the experiences that can happen.”

Hunsaker said he was impressed and persuaded by ASUU and their presentation.

A study by Hasting and Chiveta, a national architectural firm specializing in campus recreation buildings, showed that the U’s current facilities fail to adequately meet the needs of the students. They added that a facility three times the square footage of the Field House is needed to serve a student population the size of the U’s.

The facility would have taken the place of three separate buildings that campus recreation currently uses.

Before the Legislature went into session, Poelman and Student-body President Ali Hasnain had been meeting with some representatives who they expected would swing the votes.

“We felt comfortable,” Poelman said. “We were very surprised to see that there was an objection.”

The issue could be resurrected next week when the committee prioritizes their list for the full body of representatives on what needs funding.

“I feel they didn’t quite understand the rec center,” Poelman said. “We’re going to be seeing who we can talk to and clear up misunderstandings and see if we can get it reintroduced.”

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