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Administrators address WMH fee

By John Ashby

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 03 - September 7, 1995

In recent weeks, faculty and staff members at the university have expressed concern, and, in some cases, strong opposition to the $41.50-a-year facility-access fee for use of War Memorial Hall, the primary facility where recreational activities take place. (Please see "Commission meets," in the August 31 issue of Spectrum, page 2.)

University administrators are aware of the concerns, and are responding to them by providing information on the fee, and, whenever possible, improving procedures related to the fee.

The fee went into effect August 1. It replaces the pool membership fee, and allows access to weight rooms, racquetball courts, gymnasium, pool, and locker rooms.

Executive Vice President Minnis Ridenour said, in regard to the fee, "Recreational Sports is an auxiliary, and as such, must be 100-percent self-supporting." Ridenour explained that, until July 1, 1995, the Recreational Sports Department operates from fees generated through aerobics and aquatics classes, pool fees, rental of facilities (War MemorialHall), locker and basket fees, and team-sports fees.

According to Ridenour, the Recreational Sports Department also managed the extramural team sports budgets.

In previous years, Ridenour said, various funding sources were sufficient to support activities in the gym, so it was not necessary to charge a users' fee. But that is no longer the case.

"Over the past several years, use of the War Memorial facility increased substantially by students, and faculty and staff members. Maintenance of the facility and operation of recreational programs has become increasingly difficult to fund. Hours of operation were reduced and a new pool fee was introduced to help offset the costs of facility use."

(For more information on the financial aspects of the program, please see accompanying article.)

According to Landrum Cross, vice president for student affairs, the concerns raised by faculty and staff members over the new fee are being addressed by the administration. "We understand, and we do care," Cross said. "As a response to concerns expressed since the announcement of the facility-access fee, some changes have been made to the application of the fee. It will continue to replace the pool-membership fee, and will allow access to the weight-training rooms, the racquetball courts, gymnasium, pool and locker rooms." Cross said that only faculty and staff members, not dependents, will be required to pay the facility-access fee.

"Use of the facilities by dependents and spouses will continue to have certian restrictions use of the Hokie Gym will not be permitted; pool use is on a restricted schedule of Monday trhough Friday, from 7 to 9 p.m. and Saturday/Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m.; locker rental is not permitted; dependents under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a faculty/staff family member with and access pass.

"Our intention is to continue to allow reasonable access by the faculty and staff to a recreational facility that is now being supported by a mandatory student fee," Cross said. "This is something that we will, of course, continue to look at throughout the year as we plan for the opening of the new facility on the south campus."

Cross said problems associated with faculty and staff access to the War Memorial Hall should be largely alleviated through a new access check-point system. "Facility-access points will be located where the user enters the specific recreational facility, not at the general WMH entrance. We regret very much the difficulties experienced by faculty and staff members," Cross said.

Under consideration will be the category of "authorized guests," individuals who are not faculty or staff members, or their dependents, Cross said. Authorized guests have been able to obtain WMH passes for $51.50 annually, but the definition of authorized guests "is too vague," Cross said, and will be clarified. The category is being discontinued for the present. Passes already issued under this category will remain valid, but may not be reissued next year.

An issue raised by facility users recently has been maintenance of the recreational equipment. According to information provided by Cross, over the last five years the Hokie Gym has been outfitted, new racquetball court floors were provided, a new handicapped lift was installed at the pool, and the men's sauna was overhauled.

Additional WMH fee information

(Editor's note: For members of the university community to fully understand the need for instituting the facilities-access fee for the War Memorial Hall, Executive Vice President Minnis Ridenour has provided the following additional financial background information.)

Ridenour said an additional factor involved in requiring a fee for facility use is the new Health and Fitness Center which will be under construction soon.

"In 1994, the General Assembly authorized the construction of a new Health and Fitness Center to help meet the expanding needs of students for recreational programs and to provide an up-to-date health-care facility including counseling services," Ridenour said. The new facility will provide an indoor swimming pool, at least three basketball courts, weight and aerobic rooms, and an elevated track. The total project budget is $20.5 million to construct the approximately 130,000-square-foot facility.

Ridenour said that $1.3 million has been expended on the project in anticipation of the issuance of the bonds. The $1.3 million has primarily been expended to support the architectural and engineering design work for the facility, as well as value engineering, a geotechnical survey, and expenses associated with administration of the project.

With the need to begin paying for the new facility and to cover the cost of operating the War Memorial Hall and recreation programming for students, the Board of Visitors in April 1995 approved a mandatory annual $21 student fee, and a budget that includes access fees for faculty and staff members who choose to use the facilities, to cover the cost of development and planning work on the facility. The construction of the facility will be financed through student fees, which will support debt-service payments on a bond issuance which will occur in March of 1996.

With the planning and development of the new health and fitness facility, the Recreational Sports Department was reorganized to more comprehensively provide expanded recreational opportunities to the faculty and staff. While the mandatory student fee is designed primarily to support the new facility, it will also support the existing programs in War Memorial Hall.

Ridenour said that with student fees supporting the cost of operations and maintenance of the War Memorial Hall, and the cost of developing the new facility, faculty and staff users of those facilities should also be prepared to support the new facility. "As a move to more comprehensively fund existing programs and maintenance of facilities, one access fee allowing for expanded access, rather than individual fees for specific programs (for example, the pool fee), was approved."

Ridenour said severe budget cuts over the last several years have driven up the tuition charged to students. "We are trying to do everything possible to control student costs, and to enhance the living environment. If we lose students, that creates a budget problem. In regard to the responsibility for funding recreational facilities, we cannot put all the cost on students if we are to provide an attractive educational experience for them."

Ridenour said he had heard concern about the cost for family access to the gym. "The facility-access card will cover family members," he said. Because student use of the facility is the primary purpose of the gym, there will continue to be restrictions on the hours available to faculty and staff members, and their dependents.