Student Rec Center moves ahead

Michael Farmer, senior computer information sciences major, signs a petition opposing the recreation center fee. Students, including Malachi Blaxton, junior marketing and management major, circulated the petition on campus last week.

Michael Farmer, senior computer information sciences major, signs a petition opposing the recreation center fee. Students, including Malachi Blaxton, junior marketing and management major, circulated the petition on campus last week.

The face of the Missouri Southern campus is changing. Bulldozers and construction crews are busy at work as construction begins on the Beimdiek Student Recreation Center.

Along with creating over 100 student jobs, the new recreation center will include a health center, gymnasium, and a 150-seat auditorium. The plans are generating controversy, however, as some students oppose the $150 fee approved by Student Senate and the MSSU Board of Governors.

“As a first-year student at Southern, I came looking for an education, not another place to play,” said Cassie Armstrong, sophomore vocal music education and piano major.

A group of students has mobilized to voice opposition to the fee. A Facebook group, “Students opposed to new Rec. Center fee,” was founded in January and currently has more than 140 members. The group is also circulating a petition, which more than 300 students have signed.

The group plans to present the petition to University President Dr. Bruce Speck and the Board of Governors next week.

While he stands ready to hear the students, Speck, says the fee itself is already set.

“That’s an ancillary issue because that students have already said ‘we want this’ and it’s a self-imposed tax,” Speck said. “We are not able as an institution to impose that, it has to be student-driven and all the information that I’ve looked at shows that the students have been very much wanting to have that [the recreation center] and that’s something that has been led by them.”

Anna Buckley, junior music performance and German major, said $150 in additional fees each semester puts an unnecessary burden on students. She believes the recreation center could be funded in other ways, such as through donations or a usage fee.

“Which is more important, getting a quality education or recreation?” she said.

“A lot of the students are not aware of the fee,” said junior international business and business management major Malachi Blaxton. “When they hear about it, they are infuriated by it and more than willing to sign [our petition].”

Armstrong said students sign the petition for a variety of reasons. Some do not spend enough time on-campus to use the facility, some cannot afford to pay the fee, and others believe the University’s focus should be on education rather than activities.

“We are trying to give a voice to the students and to have a say in our University’s spending habits that will ultimately affect us,” said Blaxton. “… We are going about this in a proper and cordial way, with a petition.”

Dr. Terri Agee, senior vice president, questioned the timing of the students’ protest. The Board approved the fee in June 2007.

“We didn’t experience any opposition at that point,” she said.

Agee said although the fee was approved last summer, the Board decided to delay its implementation until fall 2008.

“We thought it would be more student-friendly,” she said. “We wanted to minimize the time students would pay the fee before the building is available.”

Speck acknowledges the cost for the building, but notes the history of Student Senate support.

“Yes it does create some economic stress for folks in terms of paying that, but that was student led,” Speck said.

Ben Hinkle, senior international studies major and a Student Senator, supports the fee. He believes that many students who oppose the fee are unaware of the many features to be offered in the new facility. While the recreation center is not an academic building, he said it will serve an important purpose on the MSSU campus.

“It’s true that we come here for an education,” he said. “But kids need a place to unwind, too.”

Hinkle said Student Senate is receptive to comments and suggestions from students and would welcome visits from those on both sides of the issue.

“Student Senate meetings are open to the entire campus,” he said. “No one has shown up so far.”

Darren Fullerton, director of campus recreation and wellness, said the facility’s health center ensures it will be used by most students. A health promotion and wellness lab, in which students will offer nutritional counseling and screening tests to the campus community, will also be included.

Fullerton said the recreation center is not a new project. The facility and the accompanying fee has been discussed by every Student Senate body for the last eight years, and articles about the fee have been printed in both The Chart and The Joplin Globe.

A 2004 online survey conducted by Brailsford & Dunlavey garnered responses from 575 students. The survey indicated that 68% of MSSU students strongly supported or somewhat supported a $147 fee for a new recreation center.

“We feel strongly that the students had a chance to voice their concerns,” Fullerton said.

Current students disagree, however, noting that many of the survey respondents have already graduated and will not be paying the fee.

“No one asked me,” Buckley said. “The other people I talk to say the same thing. I’m a student, and I was never invited to take a survey.”