Moraine approves plan for health & wellness center

$34.5M project to be funded by bond, tuition hike

(From March 1, 2012)

The Moraine Valley Community College board of trustees voted unanimously last week to move forward with its plan to build a $34.5 million health education and wellness center that will include a swimming pool, fitness center and field house.

The 115,000-square-foot facility to be built on the west side of the college's campus in Palos Hills will also feature an indoor walking track, three full-sized basketball courts, an athletic training room, group exercise studios, hydrotherapy tub and athletic offices. The field house will seat 3,500 people. The facility will replace the college's 40,768-square-foot fitness center and gymnasium housed in Building G.

After meeting with focal groups composed of Moraine students, faculty and staff members, and conducting a phone survey of residents in the college's district, the board believes there is enough interest in the project to make it a necessary endeavor. The project will be funded with $30.9 million in bond money and $3.6 million to be raised through an $8 increase in the cost per credit hour of classes at the college.

Funds from the tuition increase to be implemented this fall will be earmarked for capital projects, and will offset the lack of the state appropriations for capital projects over the past several years, according to Moraine Valley Executive Vice President of Administrative Services Andrew Duren. The money will be used to construct new facilities, renovate existing facilities, improve parking lots and replace roofs, and for the general upkeep of campus - with the initial project being the Health Education and Wellness Center, according to Moraine Valley chief financial officer/treasurer Bob Sterkowitz.

The next step includes working to finalize the building plans for the facility. The college's goal is to open the center in early 2014.

Proposed monthly membership fees for the facility's fitness center will be $59 per person, $89 per couple and $119 per family, and a separate rate for senior citizens. Full-time Moraine students will have full access to the center, and part-time students will pay a fee based on a sliding scale that could include "buy-up options" for full access to the facility, according to Sterkowitz.

College officials project the membership fees will raise enough revenue to cover the costs of operating the health and wellness center.

The college intends to partner with a health care organization on the project, and is awaiting a intent letter from an "in-district hospitals' corporate office," according to college officials. Another in-district hospital has expressed interest, and the goal is to obtain full sponsorship pledge within the next month. The sponsorship would provide rent, as well as student educational opportunities and community health wellness.

Recommendations from student, faculty and staff focus groups include traffic lights on the running track to provide pace; space for activities such as skateboarding, billboards and a game room; and addressing the needs of non-athletic student clubs. The focal groups were also interested in how the facility will support the college's academic programs, what will happen to current staff members, who will manage the facility, who will partner with the college on the project, and how the college's current wellness initiative will be incorporated into the programming of the new facility. Moraine officials plan to look at all those concerns as they move forward with the project.

The proposal has been met with limited opposition from the public, most from people who believe Moraine does not need such a facility or fear the college will increase its property tax rate to help fund the project. Moraine officials said last week the tax rate will not be raised.

One attendee at last week's meeting, Paul Dreger, considers the facility a "$34 million glitzy L.A. Fitness attached to a megabasketball arena."

"I realize that we have worse facilities than any of the surrounding high schools, but I do not think this facility will serve or needs," Dreger said.

Dreger said Moraine has a substandard physical education program, which may be a result of a lack of facilities, and provided recommendations for what he called "real college courses" and "life sports" such as martial arts, handball, canoeing, bicycle riding, aerobics and archery.