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Updated 10:00 AM April 6, 2009

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Task force calls for rec and sports improvements

A task force is calling for an overhaul of campus sports and recreational facilities in part to make them jibe with the university's emphasis on building a healthy community.

In a report commissioned jointly by the Office of the Provost and the Division of Student Affairs, the Recreational Sports Task Force final report calls for a master plan to address upgrades to existing indoor and outdoor facilities, and to consider building new ones to accommodate the needs of students, faculty, staff and families.

Chaired by former Kinesiology Dean Beverly Ulrich, the task force found increased demand for facilities and programs, and concerns about crowded conditions, dated equipment and amenities, and a general lack of cleanliness in current buildings — factors the task force says discourage use by students and employees. The report noted that there have been no renovations to existing facilities since 1976.

The task force gathered information from a 2003 analysis of campus facilities, and from current discussions with various groups and a survey of faculty and staff, as well by an examination of recreation and fitness programs at peer institutions.

Of the 2,498 respondents to the July 2008 employee survey, 85 percent said it was somewhat or very important to improve campus recreational facilities for use by faculty and staff. The same percentage indicated an interest in increased access to facilities. More than 50 percent of faculty surveyed said it was very important to improve facilities.

The report also noted that many employees are not aware the facilities are available for their use. Currently, 3,100 employees have purchased memberships out of the 36,900 faculty and staff at the university.

Although the report notes it is difficult to quantify use by the university's 40,000 students because they can use the facilities without purchasing a membership, it is known they comprise 80 percent of facility users.

Previous surveys and information gathered from sports and recreation leaders reveal that students complain about crowded conditions and the state of equipment, and many join private clubs to find the facilities they desire. The task force also found significant numbers of intramural and club teams that cannot be accommodated due to insufficient space.

In calling for the transformation of campus facilities, the task force noted that since the last report in 2003 the university has increased its emphasis on health and well being by launching in 2005 Michigan Healthy Community (MHealthy).

"Current management practice goes beyond passively offering programs and facilities, however, to strongly encourage and facilitate health and wellness programs for employees to improve workplace effectiveness and reduce health care costs," the report states.

"A focus on employee health enhances productivity, reduces absenteeism, reduces illnesses and injuries, and is projected to moderate health care costs. The Task Force challenges itself, therefore, to evaluate recreational facilities and the availability of programs in this larger context."

And, the report noted, the health and well being of students, who are not part of the MHealthy initiative, were important considerations in making the recommendations.

"Students who (currently) do not participate may benefit from enhanced physical fitness, facilitated social interactions, and reduced stress by participating in recreational activities," the report states.

Provost Teresa Sullivan praised the task force, saying the team had done great work covering a wide range of issues and considering the university's priorities, including MHealthy.

"This report will give us a good course for the future of campus sports and recreational facilities," Sullivan says. "Although our current budget in these tough economic times may make implementation difficult in the short term, the recommendations will serve us well as we consider how our facilities and programs can be enhanced in the future to better serve our students, faculty and staff, and meet our goals for a healthy community."

Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper also expressed appreciation for the work of the task force, saying the issues brought up by the group are important to students today, many of whom consider recreation and fitness part of their campus experience.

"We know from the CIRP data that about 60 percent of entering students exercised or participated in sports more than six hours each week before they arrived on campus," Harper says.

"The College Senior Survey confirms that these facilities play an integral role in life on campus, with at least half of the students surveyed reporting they spent three or more hours each week exercising or playing sports while they are here. It may be that something short of a full renovation of current facilities or new buildings could meet some of this need in tough budgetary times."

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