The future of Michigan State's recreational facilities
Richard McNeil has been waiting for improvements to the recreational facilities at Michigan State for 25 years.
The director of recreational sports and fitness services has been patiently waiting for the university to make substantial improvements to facilities like IM West to reflect the growing student population at MSU.
The student population at Michigan State has grown by around 13% since IM East was built in 1988 and there has not been an increase in fitness spaces in that time to reflect the growth.
Finally, McNeil’s requests were acknowledged and answered.
The Board of Trustees approved adding a recreational facility fee to tuition in their June 18 meeting with the goal of refurbishing or replacing existing recreational facilities on campus. The fee will be $100 a year, or $50 per semester, in 2021-22 and will increase to $260 by the 2023-24 academic year.
The fee, according to President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. in his address at the meeting, aims to bring MSU’s facilities up to par with the rest of the Big Ten and provide enough space for all students to be able to exercise on campus.
“Lots of students have been on these other campuses, and they ask, ‘Why can't we have it here?’” McNeil said. “And now's our time.”
The process began in the fall of 2020, McNeil said, after the Board and Stanley requested a group to be formed to take a “hard look” at MSU’s existing facilities.
The group, directed by Vice Presidents Dan Bollman and Vencelaus (Vennie) Gore, examined Michigan State’s existing facilities from October to December and reported to the Board where MSU was in terms of supporting students’ physical health.
Following the initial report, the Board approved a feasibility study to be conducted to examine the cost of improving IM West or building a new facility altogether.
“The request was to conduct a full feasibility study, hire external consultants, architects, facility planners engaged with IPF (Infrastructure Planning and Facilities), the things that are done for any normal project,” McNeil said. “I mean the same process went down with the Multicultural Center. So we've been on that process since last February.”
The group was assigned two tasks: figure out the cost of renovating IM West completely and figure out the cost and location of a possible new recreational facility.
McNeil said that the group has narrowed it down to two possible locations on campus for a new facility. The first location would be between Munn field and the Forest Akers Trust Practice field, west of the turf field. The second location would be on Cherry Lane, adjacent to Wonders Hall and the Breslin Center.
The advisory group is currently examining the different possibilities which will then be presented to the Board to make a final decision.
The main goal for the expansion is to provide adequate space for all students to be able to work out on campus and avoid using spaces for multiple purposes if possible.
“We are very good at taking an underutilized space and converting it into something else,” McNeil said. “Our spinning room is in a short-ceiling, no air conditioning, in a space that used to be what I would describe as a cage fighting-type men's weight room. And we're doing spinning in there. That's high intensity and there's no way to get air conditioning. So it's (the new facility) going to have all the standard amenities, but in a much, much better environment.”
McNeil said that the project has taken up about 20% of his time on the job since it was presented.
“It's been a labor of love,” McNeil said. “I know, I remember when Vennie first announced this, he looked at me and said, ‘You know, I'm gonna put something significant on McNeil's plate. But this is a labor of love because he'd been chomping at the bit to do this for 25 years.’ And I have been.”
2021-22 school year
This is not the only improvement on the docket for Michigan State’s facilities. McNeil said that Michigan State is going to build new turf fields on Service Road for IM and club sports.
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“The benefit of the turf field is largely because of our climate,” McNeil said. “Because natural grass looks great on the first of September. By the first of November, we don't have any grass, it's dirt or mud. And so an artificial turf (field) does two things. It guarantees a quality playing surface all the time. So it doesn't deteriorate like grass fields do. And then secondly, it expands the window of use. In our weather, our turf fields can be used probably from March through November.”
The construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2022. The goal, McNeil said, is to have the fields ready to use by the start of the 2022-23 school year.
With the announcement of a recreational facility fee being added to student tuition, Michigan State is now allowing all students to work out at the IM facilities. Previously, students had to buy a membership to access the fitness centers within the facilities.
McNeil said he expects the change to cause overcrowding in exercise spaces, especially at the beginning of the semester when it opens to students. The current facilities are designed to serve a campus of approximately 20,000 students and MSU’s enrollment will be more than double that for the upcoming year.
“So we're just trying to manage overcapacity as best we can, because we can't increase capacity without taking away capacity from someplace else,” McNeil said. “...That's going to be a problem. We'll manage it as best we can. But we are limited. We simply can't expand our space.”
McNeil said that gyms used for team sports will not be overly impacted by the expected increase in demand, but expects the fitness centers to be crowded.
“It's not gonna impact the gymnasiums, but it's gonna impact everything fitness and so I just ask students for some patience and grace because it's going to be crowded,” McNeil said.
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