Students will be fit to a fee

BY ABE TEKIPPE | JULY 14, 2009 7:15 AM

As construction workers piece together the puzzle that is the new 215,000-square-foot Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, UI officials are completing plans to change the way the university charges people to use its fitness facilities.

When the building opens in the fall of 2010, all UI students will have to pay a mandatory annual fitness fee of $219 — regardless of whether they use the facilities.

UI employees and community members will also be able to access the facilities, but they will have to pay an optional, more expensive annual fee — or a walk-in fee — to do so. Some of the facilities they will be charged to use are at present open to the public free of charge at the Field House.

As part of the $69 million Campus Recreation and Wellness Center project, existing facilities such as the Field House will be converted to single-entrance facilities, said Harry Ostrander, the director of UI Recreational Services. Everyone will enter and exit at the same location, which will be monitored.

The impending shift from what Ostrander called “fee-based” service to “student-fee-based” service has garnered mixed reviews.

“I think it sucks,” said Marta Carson, a UI alumna and community member who has frequented the university’s free fitness facilities, such as the Field House track, since 1977. “[Free access] is just something I’ve taken for granted.”

Coupled with the cost of parking — for Carson, around $3 per visit to the Field House — the new fees translate to “a lot of money,” she said.

But Ostrander said the new fees are not only necessary to fund the $69 million project but also to replace optional fees that used to feed the general recreational operations.

“In order to improve our overall facilities for students, we needed to do this,” he said.

In an effort to gauge the UI community’s interest in the construction and renovation of fitness facilities, the UI hired Brailsford and Dunlavey, a facility planning and program management firm, to conduct a series of focus groups and surveys in 2004.

Overall, the firm found UI students were in favor of paying the additional fee, Ostrander said. In fact, such fees are standard practice at other institutions. The UI is one of the last universities in the country to adopt a student-fee-based system, behind such schools as Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.

But not all students approve of the fees.

“I don’t think it’s right,” said UI senior Alex Brewington.

Brewington, who pays for the UI’s Fitness Pass, said a lot of community members, such as high-school students, come to the Field House to play basketball; restricting access might change that.
Although UI senior Daniel Boughter doesn’t pay for a fitness pass and admittedly is not the most athletic person on campus, he said he could see both sides of the argument.

“It seems like [the fee] would be needed to build [the new center] and maintain it,” he said. “On the other hand, it does seem a bit silly that every student has to pay for it when not every student will make use of it.”

Unlike Brewington and Boughter, UI graduate student Cris Wallace fully supports the mandatory fee.

“At my undergraduate school, [paying to use fitness facilities] was required; it was just part of our tuition,” she said.

With each new brick bringing the building closer to the summer 2010 completion date, Kerry DuBay, the associate director of membership and marketing at Recreational Services, said she believes more students will use the university’s fitness facilities once the mandatory fee goes into effect, though a lack of use was not an issue before.

“They’re going to be paying for recreation, so they might as well use it,” she said.

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