Southeast, other college campuses have building fever

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The building boom comes even as public colleges have cut academic programs from lack of state funding.

From recreational pools to lavish student unions, America's colleges have embraced a building fever in an effort to lure students to their campuses.

Students today want such perks and are willing to pay for them, Southeast Missouri State University administrators and student leaders said.

Ohio University will open a $60 million, 200,000-square-foot student union in 2006. It will have a three-story entry rotunda with a grand staircase, a 250-seat theater, a food court, a ballroom and a five-story atrium.

The University of Missouri-Columbia last month opened an expanded student recreation center last month. The $49 million project includes a new aquatic center, complete with a 50-meter competitive pool, a 10-meter diving well, recreational pool areas, waterfall, an indoor lazy river, steam room and sauna.

Southeast expects to open its own aquatic center by spring 2007.

The university's board of regents on Sept. 1 voted to proceed with the project.

Like similar projects on other college campuses, students will pay higher fees to build the $8.3 million, 28,000-square-foot addition to Southeast's Student Recreation Center.

And it won't be just a pool. It will include an irregularly shaped recreational pool complete with potted palms, a water slide, a 25-yard lap pool, a whirlpool, locker rooms and a sun deck. An expansive, curved-glass wall on the north side of the addition will give students a view of the outdoors.

Student-initiated project

"We are really kind of in an arms race for student recreational facilities," said Adam Hanna, a Sparta, Ill., student who is president of Southeast's student government.

"It is starting to become not a luxury, but a necessity," he said.

Hanna and other student government leaders championed the project and the increase in student fees to pay for it.

"It was totally a student-initiated project," he said.

The regents in April voted to raise student general fees by $2 a credit hour for each of the next five school years -- starting this fall semester -- to construct an aquatic center, provide more money for athletics and fund weekend and evening activities for students.

Students will pay $20.70 a credit hour in general fees by fall 2009 or $10 a credit hour more than what they paid last semester.

A student taking 30 credit hours over a typical two-semester school year will end up paying an additional $300 a year once the full increase takes effect.

The building boom comes even as public colleges have cut academic programs because of cuts in state funding.

Southeast economics professor William L. Weber said college administrators love new campus buildings.

"It is easier to build buildings and show the effects of bricks and mortar. It is much harder to raise academic quality and show improving quality," he said.

"Bricks and mortar look good to parents," he said.

They also attract students.

"Students definitely want to see these amenities on campus," said Debbie Below, director of admissions at Southeast.

Prospective students routinely ask about the university's recreational facilities, she said.

"We want to create an environment where students can find a full life on campus," she said.

Recreational facilities become even more important as colleges increasingly compete for students.

"There isn't a significant growth in Missouri among the college population. We are all competing for the same students," she said.

Other four-year public colleges in Missouri have swimming pools, she said.

Fitness, socialization

Southeast had a swimming pool, but closed it in 2002 as a cost-cutting measure. University officials said the pool in Parker Hall was antiquated and would have been costly to repair.

It also was in the wrong location, said university president Dr. Ken Dobbins. It wasn't close to the Student Recreation Center.

Southeast opened its Student Recreation Center in 1987. Since then, it's been expanded once. The aquatic center will be the second expansion in nearly two decades.

Southeast already has spent $8 million constructing recreational facilities. It also renovated a former church activity center on Broadway, adding a smaller, second recreation facility to the campus in 2003.

Gina Juenger, 22, a senior from St. Louis, regularly works out at the Student Recreation Center on New Madrid Street.

"I think there is a whole health and fitness craze," she said. Students, she said, want to keep in shape. "You always run into someone you know."

She said the center typically is more crowded at the start of the semester.

St. Louis architect Christopher Chivetta, whose firm is designing the aquatic center at Southeast and has designed some 35 centers for other campuses, said such facilities bring students together.

Swimming isn't the attraction, he said. "They come to socialize."

Said Chivetta, "It's something fun for the students to do."

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