What About the Students?
Community Usage of Campus Recreation Facilities
By Walter Kolis, Peter Titlebaum, Ed.D., and Corrine Daprano, Ph.D.
Many campus recreation departments sell memberships to the community. These memberships can boost the university's visibility and provide community wellness opportunities. Campus recreation facilities are an asset, and memberships provide a prime marketing tool.
Community members who are interested in being members of the campus recreation facility should be willing to pay market price. They will buy a membership because they want to be a part of the university atmosphere. Selling memberships to the community can provide a source of revenue. "The additional revenue generated from higher community fees (200 percent of students' rates) allow SDSU to maintain low student rates," said Eric Huth, director of campus recreation at San Diego State University. Campus recreation departments receive funding from a variety of sources and, in some cases, are not expected to be financially profitable.
In new facilities, increasing community usage should be monitored until patterns become evident. Students often are paying increased fees for new facilities and are sensitive to access and availability. The administration must remember the primary tenant. Without students, there would be no campus facility.
Conflicts can arise among community members, staff and students. Community members provide a benefit to staff, giving them experience in dealing with members who are not fellow college students. However, community members, staff and students may experience conflict in terms of dress, expectations of staff, parking and equipment. Some community members may not like the way the students dress or what television stations they watch while exercising. "We exist for our students, period," stated John Cissik, director of fitness and wellness at Texas Woman's University. "Others are welcome to come in, but it is with the understanding that the students are why we are here."
Community members who have an active interest in the university and understand the campus culture will join the facility. Fewer conflicts will occur, as community members will more easily understand and interact with students.
Most campus recreation facilities have hours in which the whole facility is not being utilized. This is where a balance can be achieved. For instance, community memberships can be sold that allow the user access to the facility from opening until 3:00 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends. Each campus will have to evaluate its own usage patterns and decide on times that will be available for community users. The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities regulates when community members are allowed access.
Other schools, including Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, use "family hours" during slower times. DePaul University in Chicago uses this strategy very effectively, balancing retired community members who want to use the facility during the day and students who want to use the facility after class.
Special events can be held for community-relations reasons but may not provide major profit. The cost of insurance, staff and usage may offset the user fee.
Similar to community memberships, holding special events also builds community relations and aids recruitment of students. "Having special events helps get folks into the building that might not otherwise come in, feel intimidated or think we don't have anything they would like to participate in," said Jennifer Sexton, coordinator of fitness and wellness programs at Stanford University.
Campus groups should have first priority when scheduling special events. One extra month could be given for university groups to have exclusive scheduling priority. All university groups with established events will be able to obtain reservation dates before community groups are allowed to schedule.
Community special events should be scheduled to minimize student displacement. Keith Weinrich, of Rowan University in New Jersey, explained that they "hold the event after hours so it won't affect any regular time at the facility."
Students realize that some special events are necessary. Community events can also incorporate students who wish to attend or volunteer. "In a number of our events, we have had student employees and or student organizations involved," said Greg Sferra of Slippery Rock University. "These experiences provided valuable educational opportunities for the students that many times relate to their major."
Communication is crucial in balancing community usage with student needs and desires. Students must be made aware of all events in the facility. This can be easily accomplished by posting the master calendar in the lobby. Users will be able to see when special events are coming and plan accordingly.
Students are much more accepting of the occasional special event, such as a science fair in the gym, if they are notified well in advance. E-mail and Web pages are a great medium for sharing this information. Signs should also be posted around the facility. A campus recreation e-newsletter can be utilized as well. Kris Myers, The Ohio State University, noted that she will "send out a member update almost every week with upcoming events and updated schedules should be on the department Web site." The best way to get information to students is through a regularly updated recreational Web site.
If displacement of students is minimized with early notification of all special events, students will plan accordingly. The deadline for special event registrations should be at least one week prior to the event so that notification can be sent to all students.
Getting students involved in the activities will assist the special event and make them more accepting of the displacement. Encourage the special event organizers to market to students for attendance or volunteers. The recreation department can forward these needs to the students.
Community members will always be a part of campus recreation departments. They deserve the same level of respect and treatment as students in the facility. Those community members with strong ties and loyalty to the university will seek out the department and pay prices comparable to health clubs for a membership. They enjoy being around students, so conflict is less likely to occur.
"The University is closed on Christmas Day and Thanksgiving," admitted Maureen McGonagle of DePaul University. "So are we. We also close in August for one week of cleaning and maintenance. Most health clubs don't do that. Some community members have a hard time understanding that. But first and foremost, we're a student recreation center."
Notification of all special events should be distributed to students as soon as information is available. Several methods of notification can be used, and using multiple methods is best. Having an updated Web site is the most effective way to inform students.
Special events should be held outside normal operating hours to minimize student displacement. Students should be encouraged to become involved in the special events. By effectively managing memberships and special events, a balance can be achieved.
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