Everyone likes to save money. Countless organizations across the country — including campus rec centers — dedicate meetings every year to determine the best ways to reduce costs and maximize profits.
Often, the greatest challenge for campus recreation is reducing costs without sacrificing the quality of their offerings. Striking the right balance between fiscal responsibility and creativity can seem impossible, but there are ways to achieve that balance.
The University of Louisville has achieved it. Without sacrificing any of its students’ favorite programs, services or amenities, and by making adjustments to daily operations, Louisville saves roughly $200,000 a year for its recreation department.
“This is something we take very seriously — we spend a lot of time doing our due diligence,” said Dale Ramsay, the director of intramural sports at the University of Louisville. “Facility planning is all about cost containment and cost management.”
Since the $38 million construction of the Student Recreation Center (SRC) in 2013, Louisville has found several ways to reduce costs without altering the student experience.
“The first thing we did was get approval to hire an outside company for our custodial services,” said Ramsay. “We weren’t super popular with some people on campus for doing that, but by outsourcing it we saved $100,000 a year.”
According to Ramsay, the ability to save thousands of dollars right out of the gate has been critical to the success of his department. “Without question, getting approval to hire an outside custodial company was our most creative idea,” he said. “If you take $100,000 over time, that gets into pretty steep savings.”
The second major decision Louisville made was related to the position of graduate assistants, a common position in campus rec centers. After evaluating the cost of having graduate assistants, Ramsay and his team decided to eliminate the position.
“One of the challenges with graduate assistants is some schools have to pay their tuition,” said Ramsay. “We created five positions, but we made them part-time, permanent employees of the university who worked 30 hours a week. That saved us $50,000 a year.”
And the department wasn’t the only beneficiary of the decision. “It’s good for the students — they have full benefits,” said Ramsay. “They get health insurance, sick days and vacation days.”
Outside of its year-round staff, Louisville also constantly evaluates and changes its number of seasonal staff members based on data.
“We look at usage patterns and take attendance,” explained Ramsay. “Usage — if you evaluate it correctly — should drive a lot of your decision-making. Every semester, we’ll evaluate whether we need certain classes or need to change them, and we can adjust our staffing levels accordingly.”
On-campus relationships are important, and arguably the most important for the Cardinals rec center is with the Department of Physical Plant, which maintains all campus facilities.
“Instead of them having a full-time maintenance person in the building each day, they come over for a couple hours a day,” said Ramsay. “They look at what needs to be done, and work with us on work orders. We save around $40,000 a year by doing that.”
Ramsay has also found over the years that help can come from within. Rather than pick up the phone for maintenance at the first sign of trouble, he’s able to rely on a senior staff member to handle the problem.
“Our associate facility director, David Hatfield, is unbelievably talented,” shared Ramsay. “He fixes lots of things himself and saves the department several thousands of dollars a year. He does a lot of work in a lot of places so we don’t have to send out work orders to get them fixed.”
Each fiscal year, the University of Louisville is able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in facility costs without sacrificing the quality of its student experience.
This is accomplished through outsourcing basic custodial and facility maintenance when applicable, monitoring staffing costs during periods of fluctuating usage, and even having a senior staff member act as the resident handyman.
After all, the ability to reduce costs should never come at the expense of the student experience. It just takes some cost containment and management.