The Pros and Cons of Opening your Facility to the Local Community

In 2010, the Ping Recreation Center at Ohio University opened its doors to the Athens, Ohio community. Allowing those other than students, faculty and staff to use the facility has been a lucrative undertaking. According to Mark Ferguson, the executive director of Campus Recreation, in 2014, the Ping Center made $38,000 from its 304 non-student members.

Since the Ping Center was built from student dollars, when it opened in 1996, it was for students only. Megan Wain, the assistant director of campus recreation at the Walter Fieldhouse and Ping Recreation Center, said they first opened it to alumni, then the community.

Before either stage, however, Wain said they conducted internal surveys, asking students if they would be comfortable exercising next to their professors or Athens, Ohio residents.

“It was kind of just a seamless transition. Students accepted them. Our alumni, first coming in, were fine,” said Wain. “I think students were very excited when the alumni started coming in and the alumni were excited as well, because they got that relationship with students again. And then, community members coming in, I feel like it was just commitment for everybody to intermingle.”

Wain explained they had requests from the community to join the rec center for a while, and this opportunity allowed the university to build a relationship with Athens residents.

In contrast, the Student Fitness Center at Illinois State University is open to students, faculty, staff and their spouses or partners and alumni, but not the outside community. Michael Bastian, the associate director of campus recreation, stated that is what the students wrote in a referendum to the facility’s Certification of Participation.

“The name of our building is the Student Fitness Center, and I think that it shows focus and value on the students of Illinois State University,” said Bastian. “For us to have it open to community members would dilute our mission and our values of what we set forth to our students, somewhat.”

Bastian also stated community members are accustomed the private health club setting that can cater to their specific needs. “They have a different set of needs and expectations,” he said. “And quite often, more often then not, they are usually the loudest voice when it comes to complaints and concerns, although they’re in the minority.”

The price of membership at Ohio University Ping Recreation Center starts at the lowest for students, who have free memberships, then increase 25 percent to 30 percent between faculty and staff, then the community.

With the extra money coming in from outside memberships, Wain said they are using it to increase the number of Athens community kids can attend their annual summer camp. It also allows the facility to send students and Graduate Assistants to national conferences and certification seminars.

“This year, we were very proud of our summer camp and bringing in more kids and being able to get more community members involved with that was awesome,” said Wain. “And then this year, we’re getting a lot more students interested going to conferences and getting certifications. Being able to do more of that kind of stuff is where our heart lies and now we’re actually able to do it, so it’s been good.”

She explained that they have not had any issues regarding crowding at the rec center or anyone waiting on equipment, but parking is difficult to the community members. They either have to wait until 5 p.m. to park for free on campus or buy a campus parking pass.

“The pros are definitely that connection, even with the students and alumni community,” added Wain. “Just having them in our building and getting to know them. I’m sure the alumni love coming back and seeing the new additions we bring and just being able to talk to the students now and seeing how classes are going.”

Ohio University has a total of six recreation centers. They’re working on opening each of their centers to the public.

As for Illinois State University, Bastian said they have no plans of changing their referendum to open their student recreation facility to the public.



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