The OC Blog Back Issues Our Mission Contact Us Masthead
Sudsy Wants You to Join the Oregon Commentator

EMU and Rec Center renovations: more expensive than you may have thought.

EMU renovation

Friday’s RG had an interesting Greg Bolt article about the upcoming EMU and Student Rec Center renovations. The Oregon Commentator has covered this issue sporadically throughout the year, but Mr. Bolt has more information on how the project is moving forward, and how it is going to be funded [emphasis added]:

The University of Oregon could soon launch a huge overhaul of student recreation and activities facilities if it can win quick state approval of a $160.5 million plan to expand two key buildings.

The plan, which faces some challenges, would demolish and rebuild a substantial portion of the Erb Memorial Union, the central gathering space on campus for students and student groups. It also would add more than 100,000 square feet to the Student Recreation Center, including adding a two-pool swimming center.

Money for the project — which would get under way next year if approved by the state university system and legislators — would come from several sources, including private donations and funds already set aside for the work. But the largest amount would be raised through bonds backed by a substantial new fee on students, including students who would graduate before ever getting to use the new buildings.

For comparison, the most recent renovations to the Student Recreation Center happened in 1997, and current students are still paying them off, to the tune of $43.25 per term. This fee has been flat since Fall 2009, but was rising before it reached that plateau. It seems that the new fees will have a similar structure:

The work would be financed using $13.5 million the university previously set aside for the project, $35 million in private donations and the rest through bonds repaid with the new student fee. The fee would start at $30 per term in 2011-12, rise to $60 per term in 2012-13 and after that would remain at $100 per term — that’s $300 for an academic year — until the bonds were repaid.

$100 per term? Tack on the aforementioned $43.25 for the 1997 Rec Center renovations, the $45 building fee (for students taking 9 credits or more), $140.75 for the health services fee (regardless of how many credits you’re taking), and the $191 incidental fee, and you’re looking at $520 in fees per term (at least — we all know the incidental fee is going to keep rising no matter what). That’s $1,560 per year in fees, on top of tuition. That’s insane.

Now, the bonds and the subsequent student fee will still have to be approved by the state legislature, and never before has the legislature approved a fee for a building before it was built (for obvious reasons). Leave it to the University of Oregon to try and rock that boat.

What will we be getting for this exorbitant cost to students?

The newer wing of the EMU, built in the 1970s, would be demolished and rebuilt, creating 107,000 square feet of new construction.

With renovation of the older, Ellis Lawrence-designed main building, the EMU would gain a 1,200-seat performance venue, conference facilities, a 300-seat theater, expanded food court, space for 15 student unions and scores of student organizations, a computer lab and other features.

The original plan also included underground parking, but that was eliminated to save money.


The Student Recreation Center would gain a swimming center with connected lap and leisure pools, double the space for weight and fitness equipment, a three-court gym, expanded indoor jogging track, new racquetball and squash courts, new outdoor synthetic turf fields and more.

I completely understand the reason for the renovation, especially to the EMU, which is to bring more students to their student union. The biggest problem with the union, however, and any EMU board member will tell you this, is that the building is not financially self-sufficient. There are not enough revenue-generating services in the building to sustain itself, so students are subsidizing the cost of the building to the tune of $5,091,532 for 2011-12 (that’s for programs, services and building operations), plus additional funds from elsewhere in the university.

I have yet to see the official renovation plans, so I am unsure as to what exactly the new EMU will entail, but one worthy upgrade would be an actual kitchen (the one currently being used by food services is makeshift). Ideally, the performance venue and theater will create some revenue generation, or at least bring students to the union to make it a central part of campus. (Side note: did you know that the Grateful Dead once played in the EMU Ballroom, as well as many other worthwhile acts including Mudhoney?)

But the elimination of parking was also an interesting choice. And the (in my opinion, ridiculously extravagant) upgrades to the Student Rec Center seem frivolous and unnecessary, especially considering the state of disrepair of many other campus buildings.

Another issue that has not been addressed here is the fact that, from what I’ve heard, student programs will no longer have individual offices once the building is renovated. When I spoke with Vice President of Capital Projects Gregg Lobisser this past fall, he mentioned that the “space for 15 student unions and scores of student organizations” mentioned in the article would mean 15 satellites for student groups, including the Student Sustainability Center, the Multicultural Center, the ASUO and the Women’s Center. Within these satellite spaces, individual student programs would have their own work stations with lockers, but would likely not have their own office spaces.

Additionally, when we spoke, he said there were not yet plans for accommodation of student media services — that is to say, none of these “satellite unions” will be a Student Media Center, or even anything remotely similar.

Granted, the current model does not adequately serve the hundreds of groups that a student union should be able to accomodate. There are over 160 fee-funded student programs and less than half of them have offices, but those who do have offices have had them for a long time and use them to the fullest. Ask a program like the Oregon Voice, who was displaced from its office earlier this year to a much smaller space in The Break. Noah Dewitt, editor-in-chief of the Oregon Voice, said that the new space is much smaller than the previous space, does not have any storage space, is much louder than their previous space (The Break has a multitude of pool and ping-pong tables), and is open subject to The Break’s operating hours rather than the EMU’s operating hours, which means they can’t access their space as frequently. The storage space is likely the biggest issue, because they can’t access their archives themselves — they need someone from EMU Facilities to let them into their own storage.

Some student groups, the Oregon Commentator included, use their spaces for myriad activities — in our example, we hold meetings and work sessions in our office, as well as producing our magazine. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to undergo production with a Student Insurgent desk five feet away and a Siren workstation five feet behind. It would be near impossible to do what we do under these circumstances.

Again, this all has yet to be approved by the legislature, and frankly, I’m not sure it will. But it’s something to start thinking about now, during the planning stages when large decisions are being made.

The rumor mill says that most members of the EMU Board have signed a letter in support of this student fee. That makes sense — most of them won’t be around when the fee is incurred, so it won’t affect them. But it’s sure as shit going to affect most students on this campus, most of whom will never see the finished products.

Student fees are rising constantly, tuition is skyrocketing out of control, and to charge students who will no longer be around to experience the new buildings is asinine, especially for a building that is going to devalue the experience of being involved in student organizations. Maybe a new EMU theater and a Rec Center swimming pool are going to be awesome, but at the cost to students, it seems like an unworthy investment.

  1. […] You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from […]

  2. nike urbanized duk says:

    Take over the old president house. It sits vacant on the corner of 13th and University. Prime real estate. You could also blockade the front like the Black Panthers used to do. Or like Charleton Heston in the Omega Man (a must see)

  3. David S. says:

    Good article. As a Lane Community College student thinking about coming back to the U of O, I can’t help but think of the ridiculous tuition I’ll be subjected to.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.