Fitness center faces staggering debt

Fitness Center
The New College Fitness Center plans to further cut hours of operation to its lower expenditures.

From yoga enthusiasts to weightlifters, the New College Fitness Center offers students a wide array of services to meet every interest and fit into even the busiest schedule. However, recent financial difficulties and an operating debt totaling $34,000 may soon force the Fitness Center to cut its hours of operation and reduce the number of activities and services it provides.

Since first opening in 1994, the Fitness Center has frequently ended the fiscal year with a deficit. From 2004 to 2013, the Fitness Center incurred debt during six non-consecutive fiscal years.

Prior to the 2012-2013 fiscal year, these debts had been resolved using money from the Fitness Center’s reserve fund. However, due to unforeseen maintenance needs, increased operational costs and a decrease in total revenue, the Fitness Center’s reserve funds were depleted and it ended the 2012-2013 fiscal year with a $34,000 deficit.

Although many students were surprised to learn of the debt, third-year and Fitness Center Student Representative Sarah Tew said that the New College Student Alliance (NCSA) had known about the potential budget shortfall since 2011.

“As unpopular as it sounds, we need a fee increase” Tew said.

The financial woes of the Fitness Center have been a long time coming.

In 2010, the University of South Florida (USF) decided to no longer contribute funds to the Fitness Center. From 2004 until 2010, USF contributed a total of $495,034.

With budgets running tight, the Fitness Center also no longer receives funding for its utility costs from Physical Plant.

In spring of 2012, the NCSA approved a 2 percent increase of the athletic fee.

However, NCSA controller Dawn Shongood noted that the increase would only cover the costs of inflation and do nothing to alleviate the sharp decline in revenue and increase of operational costs.

Thesis student and NCSA co-president Daniel Ducassi said that the Fitness Center never approached him or thesis student and NCSA co-president Samuel Thornton about the possibility of a budget shortfall.

“If we had been aware of it in May then I would have made it clear to students that we could either increase the athletic fee or have the Fitness Center be in debt,” Ducassi said.

In July, the Business Office contacted Thornton and Ducassi, asking them to authorize a transfer from the NCSA reserve fund to cover the Fitness Center’s debt. The co-presidents said that they did not have the authority to transfer the funds.

“We told the Business Office that we couldn’t authorize the transfer and that we would have to bring it to a vote at an NCSA meeting,” Thornton said.

Thornton and Ducassi said that they have asked Shongood for a detailed outline of the expenses which contributed to the deficit but said that they have yet to receive any documentation.

“We need to get a better idea of how this happened,” Ducassi said. “I want a bigger picture of the expenses.”

“We are a bit confused as to where the expenses were coming from,” Thornton said.

Ducassi, a former writer for the Catalyst, has requested that the Business Office conduct an audit of the Fitness Center.

Shongood said that the co-presidents have never asked to see the records documenting the expenses and operational costs of the Fitness Center.

“I’ve told every cabinet and every student that the office [of the NCSA controller] is an open book,” Shongood said.

Since 2004, the total expenses of the Fitness Center have climbed from $201,591 to $285,898.

Although these increases are due to a massive spike in the costs of utilities as well as emergency maintenance, Ducassi said that they are concerned that salary expenses and the decline in revenues were not adequately accounted for in the budget.

“We have to live within our means,” Ducassi said.

Tew said that the jump in expenses is due to increased costs for labor and utilities as well as emergency repairs to the building and pool.

“It’s not a misspending of funds, we’re not buying anything crazy,” Tew said. “We are overspending just in the sense that we have a laughably small budget. We are spending at the cost to keep the gym open. The debt is due in most part to the death of the USF fund and, to a lesser extent, that Physical Plant is no longer paying the utilities.”

Although Thornton said that the current NCSA reserve can cover the Fitness Center’s debt he does not think that funding the center in the short run will solve its long-term budgetary issues.

“It’s still a huge problem,” Thornton said. “The money will only cover operational debt and not go towards any capital improvements.”

Thornton and Ducassi said that they do not take issue with the costs incurred by the Fitness Center for vital and unforeseen repairs. However, Ducassi said that he is concerned that establishing a precedent for funding the Fitness Center through the NCSA could place a long-term burden on funds.

“I don’t think that it would be good if they came back for $30,000 every year,” Ducassi added. “I don’t think that we can sustain these subsidies.”

With the reserve funds depleted and operational costs increasing each year, Director of the Fitness Center Colin Jordan is restructuring the budget to try and reduce the debt and improve the long-term financial outlook of the center.

This semester, the hours of operation for the Fitness Center have already been cut. Jordan said that if a solution for the Fitness Center’s budgetary issues is not found students should expect further cuts to the hours of operation of both the center and the pool.

Thornton said that while the restructuring of the budget may solve the short-term issues he doubts that it will make the Fitness Center solvent in the long run.

“In my opinion, the cuts are marginal,” Thornton said.

Although Tew has been lobbying for a 5 percent increase in the athletic fee, the maximum increase allowed for a student fee, Jordan said that any increase would most likely not keep up with projected increases in operational costs.

“If you get behind and say get zero percent or 2 percent, even if you raise it to 5 percent the next year you are still behind the eight ball,” Jordan said.

Ducassi and Thornton are currently investigating alternative funding routes that could provide the Fitness Center with enough funds to alleviate its debt and move it towards long-term solvency.

According to records kept by the Fitness Center, there were about 3,000 visits made by New College students, faculty and staff per month during Spring 2013.

Tew said that students need to recognize all of the services the Fitness Center provides and increase funding if they want the center to thrive.

“I don’t think students give the Fitness Center its due for all that it does,” Tew said. “The point of the Fitness Center is not to make a profit. It is an amenity that needs to be funded just like the Counseling and Wellness Center.”


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