Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The university’s decision to replace its swimming pool with a wellness center took center stage at a meeting of the Associated Students of Montana State University-Northern Student Senate Tuesday, with several students and a faculty member saying the numbers the university is using are wrong and the pool should be re-opened. The university closed the pool in 2006 after having problems with its equipment, and Chancellor Frank Trocki has said Northern will push forward with plans to fill the pool and build the wellness and fitness center. After some members of the senate asked about trying to find out what the students want an informal survey done last year of 239 students showed 89 percent wanted a pool Trocki said the pool cannot be restored. “The decision has been made to close the pool,” Trocki said. The issue came before the council when Trocki suggested representatives of the council travel to the University of Great Falls to see the wellness center, which replaced its swimming pool, and see how the students there like their system. Northern student Garret Briere said that is not a fair comparison. Great Falls has several pools college students could use, while Havre has only one, he said. If the decision to close the pool is a done-deal, without concern for the desires of the students, that is not right, he also said. “This is the student’s school and the students should have a say in what happens here,” he said. Trocki said in a recent interview that it would cost Northern specifically Northern students $170,000 a year to operate the pool, after spending at least $50,000 to $60,000 in repairing it. He said he believes it would benefit more students to fill the pool and for the university’s funding foundation to raise $400,000 to match another $400,000 donated by Klabzuba Oil & Gas to use for a wellness center. Cale Chattick, senator-at-large, said Tuesday that he is not sure if abandoning the pool is the best idea after Northern spent $1.6 million renovating the facility in 1994. “If it’s going to be an investment, why don’t we stick with it,” he said. Briere said he disagrees with the figures used by Northern in its analysis, and later was supported by Trygve “Spike” Magelssen, who teaches in Northern’s College of Technology. Magelssen listed several numbers during the meeting he said were inaccurate in that $170,000 figure. He said the amount listed for the pool manager, about $50,000, was far above as much as three times more as pool managers were paid when the pool was in operation. The amount listed for lifeguards, $70,057, also was high, Magelssen said, because it listed two guards 18-hours-a-day when the pool never used to be open that long. The amount for natural gas and heating also was high and does not match what the previous usage was, even factoring in today’s gas prices, Magelssen said. He also said that something that is being ignored is what the annual expense of operating the wellness center would be that could be just as much as the pool, Magelssen said. Magelssen also brought up that the university had spent $1.6 million in 1994 renovating the pool area, including the decking, roof, diving boards and other problems with the building. After making that investment, the university should not abandon the pool, he said. Magelssen also said that students are paying fees to maintain and operate the gymnasium and auxiliary buildings about $100,000 a year for the gym and that should be used toward the pool. Trocki said several times that he stands by the $170,000 figure that was researched by an accountant and has been used by the university as the cost for three years. In an interview this morning, Trocki said there are many factors in looking at keeping the pool open. One is that the fees paid for the gymnasium and auxiliary building already are being used and are not available to operate the pool. This year $50,000 has been allocated for capital improvements, and another $50,000 has been set aside for emergencies and for future improvements, he said. As far as the figures comprising the $170,000, he said again the university stands by those numbers. In order to factor in the pool, the university would have to triple its gym fees, Trocki said. He added that something being missed in the debate is that the wellness center would be built using fundraising and the Klabzuba grant. “That’s not asking for any money from them, and they will have a beautiful place to work out and have fun,” he said. He said the university is attempting to do what is best for the students, even if it is not what they think is the best option. “Not that we don’t want to do what students want to do, but sometimes we have to step in and say we can’t,” he said.