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Thursday, December 10,2009

Student leaders float proposal to expand, renovate CU's recreation center

By Jefferson Dodge

Regent policy change

A recent change in Board of Regents policy ensures that the student vote on the project will be both required and binding.

That hasn’t always been the case. In spring 2004, the elected student leaders of UCSU’s Legislative Council approved a plan to phase in a $400-per-year student fee that has helped fund the construction of several academic buildings. Academic buildings had historically been funded by the state, but Colorado’s economic downturn prompted the students to help foot the bill themselves for several projects, including the Wolf Law School, the ATLAS (Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society) Building and the expansion/renovation of the Leeds School of Business building.

The fact that the fee was enacted without a vote of the student body irked some, including Regent Tom Lucero. Lucero was one of the regents spearheading a change in board policy last month that now requires all student-fee increases “used to finance long-term debt for the construction or remodeling of a building which is primarily used for academic and/or athletic purposes” to be approved by a majority of the students voting in an election.

Lucero was one of four regents who voted in favor of the policy change to ensure that UCSU’s Legislative Council could not do what it did in 2004 — approve a student fee for construction without going to a vote of the full student body.

Lucero told Boulder Weekly that the regents’ action last month does not supercede the existing UCSU quorum requirement, meaning that at least 25 percent of the student body would have to cast votes in any election on rec center improvements for it to be approved by a majority of those voters. Student leaders say it is very rare to have 25 percent turnout for an election.

Dustin Farivar, who, as Intercampus Student Forum chair, is the primary student liaison to the regents, told Boulder Weekly that he was disappointed by the regents’ policy change, in part because last spring students at the Boulder campus had voted against a similar change to their own student government constitution.

In an attempt to exempt the rec center project from the regents’ new policy, at the regents’ Nov. 11-12 meetings, Farivar pushed for an amendment that would have defined “athletics” buildings only as those serving Division I or Division II athletics. The regents struck down that amendment.

Farivar said Legislative Council should retain the right to approve student fees, because the students duly elected its membership, “just as the Board of Regents is elected to do the same thing. That’s the beauty of representative government.”

Regarding the student election in the spring in which a similar measure was voted down, Lucero says there was some “miscommunication” regarding the matter, but that he and other regents made it clear when they agreed to table their proposed policy change months prior to the student election that the regents would revisit the issue after student input was received.

Lucero compares his stance on student fees to TABOR, the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, under which tax increases are required to go to a vote of the people before they are approved.

He says he doesn’t draw a distinction between students paying for academic buildings traditionally paid for by the state and students paying for auxiliary student facilities that they control, like the rec center.

Lucero says, however, that despite his concerns about the “arms race” that he often sees in CU’s effort to have the biggest and best facilities, he would not vote against a new student fee for the rec center, if it is approved by a majority of at least 25 percent of the student body, and providing that all details of the costs are spelled out clearly to the students prior to the election.

Regent Michael Carrigan, who was one of two regents voting against the change in regent policy last month, says he did so because he believes in student autonomy and self-governance. In the UCSU’s representative form of government, he says, “I believe those leaders should be entrusted to make good decisions.” Carrigan cites the student vote against the change as another reason he voted against the new policy. Even if the student government were to clearly overstep its bounds, he says, the regents have the final say on fees and can vote down any cost increase that is unreasonable.

Uphill battle

Student leaders say they now face an uphill battle in getting the rec center project approved, since they now need 25 percent of the student body to show up at the polls. “It makes it more challenging now to serve students’ needs, if we’re unable to get the votes required to provide more resources,” Farivar says.

Jessica Cicchinelli, chair of the Rec Board, agrees that while the 25 percent turnout is a high hurdle, “our goal from the start was to get that 25 percent, because we want to make sure this is what the students want.”

She says it is frustrating to see the unmet demand for recreation services on campus. “We have lines out the door for intramurals,” Cicchinelli says. “We have lines out the door for treadmills. We have lines out the door for ellipticals. We have lines out the door for basketball. We have such an active campus and a high usage rate, but our facilities don’t match up.”

Asked about her preferences for the project, she says she favors planning for future decades of demand. “I’d like to see a rec center that can accommodate students in 20 years,” Cicchinelli says. “I don’t want to do a Band-Aid fix. We can keep doing maintenance, but if we’re going to make the investment, I’d like to see us go all out and make the investment to serve students into the future.”

She acknowledges the concerns about the prospect of increasing student fees, especially given the current state of the economy, “but the fees aren’t going to hit for four or five years, so by that time I hope economic conditions will have improved. We can’t stop everything because of an economic downturn.”

Like Kent, she declines to throw out any ballpark figures on the cost of the project or the anticipated increase in fees. “We’re looking at so many scenarios — everything from a renovation to a complete rebuild,” Cicchinelli says. “Maybe the students don’t want a new facility; maybe they just want a facelift.”

Lucero says that for some reason, the figure $10 million sticks out in his mind as being an early price tag for the project. “That’s probably low,” Kent says, when asked about that projection.

Surveys, focus groups

Kent says that the first student survey and focus groups about the proposal will be launched in January. CU has retained Sink Combs Dethlefs Architects for the project, as well as Brailsford and Dunlavey, a facility planning and program management firm that will manage the focus groups and surveys. Cicchinelli says that consulting firm was hired because it has significant experience with college recreation projects, including gathering student input.

According to Kent, the first survey will focus on general issues like students’ needs, expectations and use patterns. “What I want them to do is to tell us whether we even need an ice rink,” she says. A second survey will be launched at the end of the spring semester, asking students more specific questions about what the various improvements and additions would cost, to gauge how much students are willing to spend — and what it should be spent on.

“We’ve got a lot of listening to do,” says Meyer, the retired associate director.

“We want to make sure the students are the ones calling the shots on it.”

Simpson, the facilities planner, is taking a big-picture stance on the recreation needs, since he is involved in crafting a new 10-year master plan for the entire campus. He says CU officials have even had some preliminary talks with representatives from the city of Boulder about the possibility of working together to build joint recreation facilities that could be used by both the students and city residents.

Kent hastens to point out all of the energy-efficient measures that the rec center has taken to reduce costs.

“We’ve tried to make it as environmentally friendly as an old dinosaur can be,” Kent says. “We can continue to work with this. I’m not crying. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t say we can do better.”

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