SEMO regents vote to build aquatic center

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A pool project for Southeast Missouri State University got the board of regents' backing Tuesday. The aquatic center, which school officials and student government leaders said could help boost enrollment, would be paid for by raising student fees.

The board authorized the university to hire an architectural and engineering firm to design the center and come up with a detailed cost estimate. The center would be built as an addition to the Student Recreation Center.

School officials said an aquatic center could cost $7.8 million. It would be funded with bonds that would be retired with money from the fee increase.

School officials said a design could be finalized by fall and construction could start next spring.

The fee increase also will provide more money for athletics and fund weekend and evening activities for students, school officials said.

Acting on the request of student government and the university administration, the regents voted to raise student general fees by $2 a credit hour each of the next five school years, beginning with classes this fall semester.

As a result, students will be paying $20.70 a credit hour in general fees by fall 2009, up from $10.70 a credit hour this semester.

A student taking 12 credit hours of classes a semester will pay $120 more a semester -- or $240 more in a school year -- in general fees alone. That doesn't include tuition, which also goes up each year.

The regents have yet to set tuition for the coming school year.

"None of us like to raise fees," board president John Tlapek said.

But he said competing universities have pools, and Southeast needs one too.

Tlapek said he was persuaded to support the fee increase since the student government board overwhelmingly supported the move by a 23-3 vote last month.

School officials said Southeast students have wanted an aquatic center since the regents closed Parker Pool in 2002 as a cost-cutting move.

Dane Huxel, president of student government, said today's students want certain amenities on a campus, including a swimming pool.

A focus-group study by marketing department faculty member Judy Wiles supports Huxel's opinion. Wiles conducted five focus-group meetings in February. Thirty-six students, including leaders of various student organizations, participated in those five meetings.

Critics like Cory Hutcheson, a 21-year-old commuter student from East Prairie, Mo., argue that student government didn't adequately poll students to find out if they wanted to pay for an indoor pool and higher costs for campus activities and athletics.

He was one of the three student government representatives who voted against the fee plan. Hutcheson said commuter students likely wouldn't use the pool.

Hutcheson didn't attend the regents meeting, where the only student comments came from Huxel.

Wiles told the board that the participating students included both students who live on campus and those who commute, and were representative of the student body.

She said that was a better way to gauge student opinion than to do an exhaustive survey of the student body.

The aquatic center likely would feature both a lap pool and a leisure pool, officials said. It would be constructed in an addition to the north side of the Student Recreation Center.

This would be the second addition to the recreation center on New Madrid Street since it opened in 1987, said Lori Lynn, director of campus life.

"We are always looking for ways to provide students healthy, constructive choices for use of their time," she said.

More than 50 percent of Southeast's students use the Student Recreation Center on the north end of campus and the smaller fitness center on the south end of campus, Lynn said.

Lynn said the main recreation center on New Madrid Street attracts students and potential students. "Our building has turned into a showcase for the campus," she said.

In addition to building the aquatic center, the fee would cover annual operating costs estimated at $220,000 to $230,000, Lynn said.

Regent and athletics booster Al Spradling III said increased funding for athletics could make the school's sports teams more competitive. That, in turn, he said would encourage more people in the area to join the university's booster club whose fund-raising efforts also help the athletics department.

The $2 increase initially would include 75 cents for the aquatic center, 75 cents for athletics and 50 cents to pay for major speakers and entertainers to come to campus.

Within five years, the fee increases combined would generate an estimated $1.95 million in added revenue annually, school officials said.

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Board of Regents action

Southeast Missouri State University Board of Regents action on Tuesday

* Conferred degrees for 2005 spring commencement.

* Approved a new master's in business administration degree with an option in health administration.

* Approved a new specialist degree in educational leadership development.

* Granted a one-year extension to the charter agreement with Lift for Life Academy in St. Louis.

* Authorized the university to seek National Register of Historic Places status for the St. Vincent's Seminary building and grounds where Southeast is now developing the River Campus arts school.

* Approved schedule of major capital projects and maintenance and repair items.

* Increased general fees to pay for aquatic center, weekend and evening activities and help fund athletics.

* Authorized the university to proceed with architectural and engineering work to design an aquatic center.

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