The Stroh Center might make a nice front porch, but the rest of the University is crumbling

The Rec center can’t afford to hand out towels any longer. The Union can’t afford to keep the food court open on the weekends. Yet the University is moving ahead with plans to construct a $36 million basketball arena. Talk about mixed messages.

There is no doubt that Anderson Arena is dated, but let’s ask the 43 University staff members, who were informed over winter break that their contracts may or may not be renewed, if now is a good time for the University to build the Stroh Center.

Better yet, let’s ask the students if now is a good time to build an arena. After all, the students are the ones who will pay the bulk of the bill.

The Athletic Department was able to put together $14 million from donors, a large part Kermit Stroh’s generous $8 million donation. But Athletics plans on paying the ramaining $22 million with a $50 fee that will be tagged on to students’ tuition as a facilities fee. With nearly 20,000 students at the University, the fee will generate nearly $1 million each semester.

To be fair, the project was conceived and the fundraising was started well before the current budget crisis developed and the economy tanked. But we’re going to be adding an extra $100 a year to each student’s cost to attend the University at a time when access to credit and parent resources are drying up.

Oh, what we could do with $1 million. Especially now.

Undergraduate Student Government President John Waynick likes to compare the $50 fee to the one students find on their tuition now, which is paying off the construction cost of the Union.

But can the Union really be compared to the Stroh Center? Thousands of students use the Union’s computers, printers, dining services, Starbucks, theater, bookstore, post office and meeting rooms every single day. Only a handful of students – mostly athletes – will be utilizing the Stroh Center every day.

While the new basketball arena would definitely be a nice asset for the University, now is not the time.

Athletic Director Greg Christopher says the new arena will attract students, that it will be the new “front porch” of the University. But what good is a shining front porch if the rest of the house is a mess with a crumbling academic infrastructure and is in dire need of upgrades.

So the challenge to the University is clear. Though circumstances may force us to proceed with the project, it’s sending mixed messages – some would say the wrong message – to the public and the students of the University. The University must redouble its efforts to acknowledge this by significantly investing in the academic and student services side of this University.

Let’s take care of our student’s first.