Thursday, November 26, 2020

U must exercise interest in improving sports facilities

About a month ago I had the opportunity to meet with Larry Sierra, the director of the IM sports facilities, in his office at IM Sports-West. Last year, as a member of ASMSU, I had worked on a project to better the IM facilities. But I had never met Sierra before that night. Standing in his office, I could practically feel the history of these facilities before me. And while the subtle changes that have helped the facility over the years are far outweighed by the laundry list of improvements needed, it can be said that Sierra and the IM facilities have done MSU well.

Our facilities were once the model for other universities - this was in the 1950s. At that time, when physical education was still required, IM Sports-Circle was built with enough lockers in the basement for each student to have one. Multiple swimming pools, classrooms and basketball courts highlighted both IM Sports-West and IM Sports-Circle. IM Sports-East came later, when Breslin Student Events Center was built, more than a decade ago. These facilities were, and still are, used not only for classes and recreation, but also sports leagues for students not named Charlie Bell or T.J. Duckett - although they can play there, too.

What was groundbreaking in the 1950s is now antiquated in 2000. Those 18,000 lockers in the IM Sports-Circle basement are a waste of space. The indoor swimming pool is not long or wide enough for collegiate competition, and IM officials are wondering aloud about a dome-like bubble over the outdoor pool. The weight room is a pit at IM Sports-West, one of the reasons ASMSU got involved last year with the betterment effort. But the weight room resembles a rose garden compared to an IM Sports-West basement area where the karate club works out; a scene straight out of the movie “Fight Club,” which is pretty cool now that I think about it.

Meanwhile, as MSU’s facilities were deteriorating, universities across our state put up money for state-of-the-art new facilities in the last five years. Western Michigan University, Central Michigan University, Oakland University and Ferris State University all have new facilities that easily put our older facilities to shame. These are smaller schools that have made sports recreation for students a priority. Now, I cannot argue that any prospective student would attend a university solely based on IM facilities. This would be false and I would get letters about how education is what matters most. But clearly there is room for improvement with these facilities, which would only add to the overall college experience that MSU has to offer.

In the past there was always something more pressing, more important, that was needed on campus than major IM improvements. This patchwork approach was OK for a few years, but now has become a problem. This year, ASMSU and IM officials will be surveying student interests and plan to present a proposal to the community on a way to rebuild the proud tradition of the facilities. The IMagine project has been in motion since early this year, with hopes of projecting a facility road map and cost soon. This is a project that students, faculty and administration should embrace.

Students will probably have to pay some sort of fee to see this happen, but ASMSU is proposing that the fee be assessed as the project is in motion. The MSU Board of Trustees, the athletic department and the Michigan Legislature should also get involved. The athletic department should especially contribute because of the swimming pool issue. This project is well within the realm of possibility of our community. It may not be something that any of us see until we are alumni, but at least we can say we initiated a plan that bettered our university.

Until then, we will continue to see some improvements to the IM facilities, specifically to the locker room area at IM Sports-West. But enough is enough with this patchwork approach. ASMSU and IM officials have taken the lead in seeing that the legacy of this generation of Spartans is one that includes bettering our recreation facilities. In talking with Sierra that night, I realized he was proud that the students have made this an important issue. Seeing his office in IM Sports-West, I can tell you it is an important issue for him, too. Although, he probably wouldn’t mind a new office in the new facility when it one day comes to be.

Michael Webber, a State News undergraduate columnist, can be reached at webbermi@msu.edu.

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