Pool v. wellness center
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Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]
Some Montana State University-Northern students and employees and area residents during a student forum questioning Northern's decision to replace its swimming pool with a wellness center agreed they need to make their wishes known to the university administration. Daimon Parrotte, who owns and operates Physical Therapy Down Under & Fitness Center with his wife, Kristi Parrotte, said the students need to let their feelings be known. “We've got to make it maybe clear to the chancellor you aren't happy,” he said. Some 25 people attended the forum, including five to 10 Northern students, which included forum organizers Lorretta Thompson and Garret Briere. Havre City Council members Pam Hillery, Bob Kaftan and Bob Kaul also attended. Chancellor Frank Trocki did not attend the meeting. His office this morning confirmed he never had been invited, and the office was never contacted to see if he would attend or if he would be available. The pool was closed in 1996 due to equipment failure, and the university has pursued filling it in and building an extensive wellness center in its space. Klabzuba Oil & Gas earlier this decade made a $400,000 donation to the university to build a wellness center, requiring matching funds. Trocki said earlier this year that the university plans to have its foundation seek contributions to make the $400,000 match. Some students, faculty and community members have said the decision is flawed, and the university should reopen the pool instead. Decision made from the top Trygve “Spike” Magelssen, who teaches in Northern's College of Technology, said he has been told that the decision has been made to close the pool, and it is final but that is flawed, he said. The students and community members need to let the university know what their feelings on the issue are, he said. John Snyder, who teaches English at Northern, said the issue is symptomatic of the problem of a university system top-heavy with highly paid administrators. Three or four administrators get together to make decisions, without consulting students, faculty or the community, Snyder said. He added that if the university system had taken $200,000 it spent in a search for Trocki and for the new president of Montana State University, Waded Cruzado, that could have been used to reopen and run Northern's pool for a few years. He said the structure of the system leads to waste and problems in the system. “Two-thirds of the full-time workers here do not teach a single class,” he said. Competition with private business Daimon and Kristi Parrotte said the university opening a wellness center in direct competition with them would put them out of business. Kristi Parrotte said she and her husband have sunk their life savings into their business, but could not compete with a wellness center paid for through tax dollars. “If they open the wellness center we go bankrupt ,” she said. “I just don't think it's right for the college to get free money and open up this wellness center and shut a community business down.” Curtis Smeby, who teaches in Northern's College of Education, said that while he sympathizes with the Parrottes, he is not sure about listing duplication of services in opposition to opening a wellness center. Smeby said by that reasoning, because there are hotels in Havre, the university shouldn't have dormitories; because there are food services downtown, the university shouldn't have a food service. “You go down that road and you don't have a university,” he said. Questioning figures Briere said in his opening statements that the information presented by the administration is skewed. He said prior operating expenses show it would not cost $170,000 annually, as the university estimated in 2006. Trocki has said he and the university stand by those figures as accurate. One of the figures, a $70,000 estimate of staffing the pool with two lifeguards for 16 hours a day, was questioned by Magelssen. He said the university never used to staff the facility for that long it averaged eight-and-a-half hours a day, he said. Kaul said federal regulations would warrant high lifeguard staffing, however. Federal mandates require that two lifeguards be on duty whenever someone is in the water. “You can't get away from that federal mandate. You have to have them there,” Kaul said. The issue of the hours also were discussed. Students and community members said part of the reason the use of the pool was low, historically, was that it was not open enough hours. Part of that was due to people in the work-study program not showing up to staff the pool. Dave Boles, who said he worked as a lifeguard at the university pool from 1985 to 1995, said he often was called at home to come fill in for people who did not show up for their shift. Use of the pool When asked by Northern faculty member Fred Smiley if the pool supporters had any numbers indicating usage would be high, Briere cited an informal study conducted last year indicating 89 percent of Northern's students supported using the pool. Boles questioned that. He said in his tenure, in many shifts only one person would use the pool. Those usually were community members, not students, Boles said. “From a personal standpoint, I don't think the pool needs to be opened,” Boles said. Funding for the pool Magelssen also said funding should be available for the pool. The state provides money for the physical plant, and students pay fees for the gym and auxiliary buildings, as well as athletic fees. That should provide enough money for the pool's restoration and operation, he said. Students pay more than $400,000 a year in those fees, he said. Sue Ost, director of business services at Northern, said this morning those funds do not apply or already are used. As an auxiliary building, Northern cannot use state funds for the gymnasium, including the pool, she said. The gym fees are being used for current projects or are being used to build a reserve for future projects, such as the replacement of the basketball court floor, which will have to be done within a few years, she said. The auxiliary fees are being used to service debt on renovations and reconstruction of the university residence halls. Ost said that with the decline in the university population and the resulting loss of fees, the auxiliary fees currently cover little more than that debt service.