Students approve rec center renovations

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Students play basketball in the East Campus Activities Building. Students voted Oct. 26 and Oct. 27 to demolish the building.

Story and photos by Rachel Albin, News Net Nebraska

Afternoon sunlight streamed in through the high, arched windows of the East Campus Activities Building Monday as students exercised in and around the old basketball court.

Two men shot hoops on the polished, wooden court that’s held up since 1926. A few women ran on treadmills set up on an old stage outlined in white molding. High above the scene, a man ran on another treadmill perched in the second-story bleachers.

“It’s kind of like they shoved treadmills and bikes about anywhere there’s open space,” said Jeremy Hammen, the graduate student in natural resources who was running on the treadmill. By 2015, the hodge-podge layout inside the East Campus Recreation Center could be a thing of the past, and so would the historic building.
Students voted Oct. 26 and Oct. 27 on a referendum to overhaul campus recreation centers. A landslide 72 percent of voters chose to replace the Activities Building with a new facility and construct an outdoor recreation building on City Campus to expand cardio and strength training areas in the existing city campus recreation center.

About 21 percent of University of Nebraska-Lincoln students taking at least one credit hour voted in the election, with 3,672 in favor of construction and 1,394 opposed.

Stan Campbell, director of campus recreation, said he was humbled by the vote because it showed students trust Campus Recreation to create a product worth their money.

The project, which is expected to cost between $20 million and $22 million, will be underwritten by student fees. In fall 2011, fees will increase by $22 per semester, then by another $22 per semester in fall 2012 and then $15 more per semester in fall 2015, totaling $59.

Teal Richard, a freshman majoring in apparel merchandising and French, said city campus’ recreation center is crowded when she goes there, so she supports the increase.

“I feel like we’re already paying thousands of dollars to come here anyway,” she said.

Students who graduate before the completion of the project will be compensated with post-graduation access to the recreation centers for as many semesters as they paid the fees.

Andrew Lacy, a senior broadcasting major who ran for ASUN president in 2009 on a campaign not to raise student fees but was defeated, said that although the East Campus Recreation Center needs work, since he will graduate in May, he couldn’t justify voting for fees other students will pay.

The $59 per semester fee will remain on students’ bills for the life of the project’s 30-year bond, said L.J. McElravy, a graduate student in leadership education. McElravy heads the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska’s Wellness Ad-Hoc Committee, which pushed for the referendum.

McElravy was also on the committee when a 2009 attempt to renovate the recreation centers failed by a margin of just four votes. In March 2009, students voted against an ASUN Wellness Ad-Hoc Committee referendum to refurbish recreation centers and the University Health Center in exchange for an $80 increase in student fees, which would have taken effect the following semester. The Office of Business and Finance created the staggered fee increase plan students accepted Oct. 26 and Oct. 27.

The 2009 referendum proposed building a new East Campus Recreation Center, a new health center and some renovation to city campus’ Campus Recreation Center.
“The groups started talking and decided that maybe the projects should be uncoupled, that maybe we were asking students to be too robust with their funding,” Campbell said.

Recreation centers were prioritized in the Wellness Ad-Hoc Committee’s second attempt at renovations because of conditions at the East Campus Recreation Center, Campbell said, but ASUN doesn’t want to lose sight of health center renovations. McElravy said ASUN will likely take up the health center issue in the near future, possibly in the next few years.

The just-passed referendum is the latest chapter in a long history of students wanting recreation centers on campus. The East Campus Activities Building was constructed in 1926 because students wanted a place to exercise and socialize. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Athletic Department helped fund recreation projects for shared use including renovation of the Coliseum and the construction of the Cook Pavilion. In 1987, the Sapp Recreation Center replaced a men’s P.E. building that was formerly a World War II training center. It was in part paid for by $2.50 of a $3.50 assessment on home football game tickets for non-students and non-staff.

The current proposal accepted by popular student vote must now be reviewed by UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman. He can take it to the NU Regents for final approval. Campbell said he is optimistic the issue will reach the regents at their June 2011 meeting.

Students presented the project to Perlman before the student election and he gave ASUN’s Wellness Ad-Hoc Committee the OK to put it on the ballot.
If construction is approved by the regents, all renovations are tentatively slated to be complete by spring 2015. The demolition of the Activities Building and construction of a new building would start in summer 2012.

McElravy said ASUN is searching for a place on East Campus to use as a temporary home for some workout equipment so students have somewhere to exercise during the transition. Not much can be done about the basketball court.

Kay Logan-Peters, professor of architecture, opposes the demolition of the Activities Building, as does the Preservation Association of Lincoln, of which she is a board member. She said she can’t remember the last time the fate of a university building was determined by popular student vote.
Campbell and McElravy said the building was deemed unsalvageable by structural engineers the university brought in several years ago. Though Campus Recreation maintains the parts inside the building occupied by the East Campus Recreation Center, Campbell said Facilities, Management and Planning maintains the shell of the building.

“I think that there’s always a decision made, before the decision’s really made, to let a building to go to hell in hand basket and then it’s used later on as an excuse not to renovate the building,” Logan-Peters said, adding she didn’t think it was anyone in particular’s decision, but that it seems to happen often on campus.
Richards Hall, Bessey Hall and the Whittier Research Center are all examples of successfully renovated buildings that were once in bad shape. Logan-Peters said even Love Library had asbestos until about eight years ago when it was renovated.

“We don’t have that many old buildings and I think they lend a lot to the campus,” Logan-Peters said. “With every one we take down, it just makes campus look more and more like a shopping mall.”

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