Rec center redux

Students prepare for second try at Wildcat Activity Center

WHAT COULD BE Aaron Ross-Swain says Chico State’s recreational facilities are nowhere near what other campuses have, which he believes could discourage students from coming here. The pool, for example, is not regulation, part of why there’s no swim team.

WHAT COULD BE Aaron Ross-Swain says Chico State’s recreational facilities are nowhere near what other campuses have, which he believes could discourage students from coming here. The pool, for example, is not regulation, part of why there’s no swim team.

Photo by Tom Angel

Where would it go? The first time around, the Wildcat Activity Center was proposed to be located on Second Street between Cherry and Orange streets, where warehouses now stand. That is one of the few places where Chico State has room to expand.

In their last attempt to get a recreation center for Chico State University, students instead got a sour lesson in politics, finance and public relations. Now, a year after the Wildcat Activity Center referendum went down to bitter defeat, the proponents are regrouping for a second try.

This time, they say, their plans are not so lofty. This time, the proposal won’t be a $65 million, 16,000-square-foot behemoth including an aquatic center, concert facility, courts, raised track, workout rooms and juice bar.

“I think we were just overzealous,” said Aaron Ross-Swain, who worked on the first campaign. He said he’s learned a lot since the referendum went down with a 65-percent “no” vote. “The cost has to drop dramatically,” he said, and the referendum “was just too complicated.”

Ross-Swain is leading a subcommittee of the Associate Students’ Bell Memorial Union Committee that is gathering student comments and plans to form fall focus groups to pin down what type of center to put before voters in spring 2003.

Last time, organizers just “figured out what the demand was and then designed the scope of the project,” he said. Basically, students liked the idea of a monstrous activity center on campus, but not if it meant they’d have to shell out nearly $300 a year in fees for the privilege.

This time, said Ross-Swain, “the scope and what the project could look like are completely unknown.” Committee members gathered more than 500 surveys after setting up a booth in the Bell Memorial Union. The survey asked questions such as how the students voted in the last referendum, if at all, and why. They were also asked to fill in and rank amenities and say how much they’d be willing to pay in fees—from $50 up to $100 a semester.

The preliminary results indicate that respondents’ top choice is a weight room, with aquatics coming in second. Following are a gym (courts and such), multi-purpose rooms for aerobics and dance, and finally the social aspects such as a lounge and smoothie bar.

But even if they get past the money factor, proponents will have a hard time convincing one segment of the community that a campus rec center is a good idea: owners of local health and fitness clubs. They oppose any center that includes weights and exercise equipment of the kind they have at their gyms.

Scott Schofield, who owns North Valley Athletic Club, said the plan amounts to unfair competition, because university ventures are subsidized by tax dollars. He started his business 25 years ago precisely because Chico State had no such facility. About 30 percent of his members are students, and “that 30 percent means either profit or no profit. … I’ve got 2 and one-half million dollars invested here and half of my life.”

The coalition of gym owners, who successful got the city of Chico to drop plans for a $5.2 million rec center of its own several years ago, was frustrated that President Manuel Esteban supported last year’s referendum. “We asked the university to be sensitive to the business needs,” Schofield said. Even the Chamber of Commerce “bailed on us,” he said.

The gym owners launched an ad campaign that hammered not on the competition issue but on the price of the project: “Vote no save your dough,” read one half-page ad, saying that students starting school in fall 2002 would be forced to pay $1,259 toward the center before it even opened.

Ross-Swain said the gym owners aren’t being reasonable and their campaign was “conniving.” The university wouldn’t sell memberships to the general public, so the health club wouldn’t be competing for that market. The idea of taking out the weights and cardiovascular equipment is silly, Ross-Swain said, because that’s a big part of what a student rec center is supposed to provide.

“For them to be happy, they wouldn’t want us to have a facility,” Ross-Swain said. “They’re really depriving students of something that’s an important part of the college experience.”

Schofield replied, “Before, as now, the only thing that we opposed was the state-of-the-art [element]. The stuff that we were against is the stuff that would compete with our business. … It doesn’t need to be a palace.” He wants to get together with the supporters and talk compromise—as long as there’s no fancy weight room or cardio equipment. Otherwise, he said, “I guess we’ll have another battle.”

The supporters say they’re up for it.

“What we’re doing differently is we want to get students involved in the project,” said Sean Kvingedal, the Associated Students commissioner for environmental affairs.

During the last attempt, the proponents held the plans close for quite some time, which left the door open for a negative campaign

Kvingedal mentioned there’s another feature the rec center must have before he’ll throw his support behind it: environmental friendliness. “We need to start setting the trend for sustainable design,” he said. The design should be energy-efficient, for example, and use materials that harm the environment least.

Ross-Swain thinks if he could only take students to other campuses where an activity center exists, “we could get a rec center in no time.”

Besides the camaraderie of working out together, a center would offer new jobs and the chance for students to do something constructive with their bodies. "It adds so much to the college experience," he said.