- A Response to Critics of Soaring College Rec Spending
by Emily Attwood June 2015
“LSU Faces Dramatic Budget Cuts While It Builds An Expensive Lounging Pool” This was the headline of an article that appeared in The Huffington Post this past May criticizing Louisiana State University’s spending of $84.75 million on an overhaul of its recreation facilities despite a threatened $55.5 million funding cut from the state.
Last week New Jersey governor Chris Christie admonished what he considers wasteful spending in the higher education system, denouncing “extras” such as lazy rivers and climbing walls.
"Some colleges are drunk on cash and embarking on crazy spending binges,” he said.
If you work in college recreation, the incidents made you cringe.
The cost of higher education is going to get a lot of attention leading up to the 2016 election, and unfortunately, that’s going to come with a lot of misguided scrutiny of campus recreation programs.
What both incidents overlook — as anyone working in college recreation will immediately recognize — is that a university’s education budget and recreation budget are two entirely different things. Campus recreation centers are not built at the expense of science labs or classrooms. For most universities, such projects are funded (and maintained) from students fees.
"The funds for the project come directly from the student fee and can only be used for the project," LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard told The Huffington Post. "Similar to donations to the university or funds from the state for capital projects, these types of funds can't be shifted to fill in budget holes or be used in another way. They can only be used for what they were originally designated for."
The impact of such facilities on the price of a college education is actually minimal, according to David Feldman, economics professor at College of William & Mary.
“Lazy rivers are only a tiny piece of the costs,” he told Inside Higher Ed. “These lazy rivers are not the reason why student debt is soaring seemingly out of control. The big problem that higher education faces today, at the public side, is cuts in state spending.”
Some argue that cuts in spending are actually driving the construction of bigger and better recreation amenities, as universities look draw in more out of state students. According to research from the University of Michigan, “wealthier students [are] much more willing to pay for consumption amenities.”
Despite its negative headline, The Huffington Post article went on to admit as much, quoting a 2013 article in which former Miami University president James Garland explains, “We took advantage of low interest rates for municipal bonds and invested in rehabilitating our residence halls and eating facilities and putting in more recreation -- workout rooms and lounges, and the kinds of accouterments that really dressed up a campus and made it a much more comfortable and familiar place for upper-middle class students. So those students started applying to us in droves. Application numbers went up, we became more selective, and the SAT scores of the entering class became higher."
So, in the face of a $55.5 million budget cut (avoided, thankfully) LSU would need to rely more heavily on the appeal of its non-academic offerings to bring in more students and more revenue. As Jane Wellman, a finance expert with College Futures Foundation, told Inside Higher Ed, the issue is not of how colleges spend money, but the priorities of schools.
“The sense is that college costs are going up too rapidly, and institutions aren’t doing enough to control them,” she says. “The critique underneath that is the critique of the decision-making culture in higher education.”
Rather than ask why LSU would spend $85 million on a recreation center, maybe politicians should be asking why the state of Louisiana was mulling a $55 million cut to education.
We won’t get into the other complexities of campus recreation facilities, such as the positive economic impact of construction (According to NIRSA, $1.7B was spent on 157 recreation construction projects in 2012), the employment opportunities afforded to students, the educational programming opportunities, the importance of recreation to students' quality of life (and GPA), the role in building a schools’ reputation, or any number of issues.
Unfortunately, neither will the politicians pinning the climbing costs of higher education on climbing walls.
- The Market for Public Recreation Projects Is Rebounding
by Emily Attwood June 2015
Two years ago, the public recreation submissions to the Architectural Showcase could be divided into two distinct categories: those costing more than $5 million and those costing less. All but one of the facilities in the former category are located in Canada.
- Moving Toward a Self-Sustainable Aquatics Funding Model
by Emily Attwood May 2015
Of all the municipal recreation programs that suffered budget cuts during the Great Recession, perhaps no area has taken a bigger hit than aquatics. Public pools have never been a profitable line item in recreation budgets, bogged down by expensive initial construction costs and ongoing maintenance needs. Public pools drained their waters left and right to save on operational costs, and even with budgets rebounding, deferred maintenance has caused expenses to increase to the point where many programs have no choice but to close down indefinitely.
- New Orleans Suburb Considers Privatizing City Parks
by Laura Godlewski April 2015
A suburb of New Orleans is responding to a drop in participation in its youth sports leagues by privatizing municipal parks, as well as removing restrictions about what teams a child may join based on where they live.
- Funding Freeze Puts Illinois Park Districts in a Bind
by Laura Godlewski, Athletic Business Intern March 2015
With the state of Illinois facing a $1.6 billion budget deficit, governor Bruce Rauner has placed an indefinite suspension on state grants for park district construction, which affects both current construction and new construction for park districts across the state.
This decision comes at a particularly poor time for many park districts just gearing up to start work on a variety of construction projects as warm spring weather sets in.
- Poor Design Blamed for Rec Center's Financial Woes
by Emily Attwood March 2015
Seven Hills Recreation Center in Ohio lost $45,000 last year, bringing its total financial loss up to $553,000 since it opened in 2002 — not including the initial construction costs. According to Mayor Richard Dell'Aquila, poor initial design has caused the city-owned recreation center to become a "generational financial problem."
“The recreation center has suffered from poor construction, bad design, and ineffective management," Dell'Aquila told Cleveland.com. "Combined with the worst financial recession since the 1930s, the recreation center has been largely responsible for much of the financial woes the city has suffered in the past decade.”
Among the major expenses, the pool roof had to be replaced shortly after the center opened due to deterioration caused by pool chemicals. The $2 million cost was partially covered by the original subcontractor. The natatorium’s HVAC system was also replaced last year at a cost of $500,000. Dell’Aquilla says that the previous system never worked properly and led to structural issues throughout the rest of the recreation center.
In 2011, the city hired a consultant to inspect the recreation center and identify further construction deficiencies. In addition to poor facility ventilation, the inspection found that the no vapor barrier had been installed during initial construction, putting the facility at increased risk of deterioration due to moisture buildup.
Additionally, Dell’Aquilla criticized the original pool design, which is not large enough to host swim competitions. “There are many swim teams in our area that could have been attracted to the center with a little more thought.”
- Cardio Equipment Leasing Strategies for Fitness Centers
by Emily Attwood February 2015
Cardio equipment is the heart of any fitness center. It's the most popular type of equipment, unintimidating and easy to use for fitness newbies, but also a powerful workout tool for enthusiasts. Befittingly, manufacturers are constantly seeking out new ways to improve their products, from design tweaks to make equipment more user-friendly to consoles featuring integrated technology to keep up with users' expectations. Today's cardio equipment is compatible with a range of wearable technology, offers a variety of virtual-reality programming, can record a long list of workout data, and can even alert operators to specific maintenance needs.
- How to Keep Costly ‘Scope Creep’ at Bay When Building
by Oliver Snider, Guest Contributor December 2014
Reading The New York Times’ latest account of the costly and troubled World Trade Center Transportation Hub project, there came a point where I recognized that the scale of the disaster — $2 billion over budget and six years behind schedule — was all that separated that project from the typical campus project beset by scope creep.
- More Bad News: UAB's Bowl Hopes Now 'Nonexistent'
by Michael Gaio December 2014
If it's true that "when it rains, it pours," consider UAB's football program drenched in a torrential monsoon.
- UAB Kills Football Program, Fallout Immediate
by Michael Gaio December 2014
The University of Alabama at Birmingham officially killed its football program on Tuesday. The ensuing scene on the school's campus was one of chaos and heartbreak — students protesting, the band playing, tears flowing and a school president being berated by devastated players and booed by fans. Death is never easy to accept.