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ETSU weighs fee increase for Culp improvements

December 3rd, 2013 9:28 pm by Nathan Baker

ETSU weighs fee increase for Culp improvements

East Tennessee State University students could see another fee increase in the coming academic year to help pay for $18 million in renovations to the D.P. Culp University Center.

ETSU Vice President for Student Affairs Joe Sherlin said the proposed $55 increase to program service fees could be put in place as early as the 2014-15 academic year, if it’s approved by the college’s student government association and the Tennessee Board of Regents.

“Our student life and services task force recommended renovations for the University Center years ago, making it a true hub for student life,” Sherlin said. “We’ve heard from students for a number of years that we could make improvements to this facility to enhance student life.”

The preliminary plan calls for improvements to the center’s public lounge areas — adding a dedicated space for the Starbucks coffee franchise already in lower level of the building and providing dedicated areas for gaming — and a shuffling of some of the offices and organizations housed in the nearly 40-year-old Culp Center.

A major part of the initiative involves relocating the Advisement Resources Career Center from the Culp Center’s second floor to the nearby Stone Hall, which would first have to be converted from a residence hall to suit the ARC office’s needs.

ETSU SGA President Mike Wallace said an online student survey underscored the need to renovate the university center to better match the amenities offered at similar schools.

SGA members and university administrators toured the campuses of Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., and Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro for inspiration on the project.

“We went out and talked to students and surveyed on ine to gather information on what changes they would like to see, if any,” Wallace said. “The students overwhelmingly said they would like us to make a central hub for them in the University Center.”

The survey did not include questions about fee increases, which could cause consternation on a campus that has already seen a number of fee increases in the past two years.

In 2012, the university instituted a $25 parking fee increase per student per semester to help pay for the 1,200-space parking garage nearing completion off State of Franklin Road. This year, a $125 per student per semester athletics fee hike began contributing to the school’s rebooted football program, which still needs to build a stadium, recruit a team and hire a complete coaching staff before the first game in 2015.

With those increases, ETSU’s $672.50 program service fee for full-time undergraduate students in the 2013-14 academic year is second highest among the TBR’s universities, trailing only MTSU’s $809 fee.

Sherlin said administrators have considered the effect the fee increase will have on students’ tight budgets, but said the need for the renovations will provide a greater benefit to campus life.

“Costs are always an issue, I think that the students are sensitive to that,” he said. “But this is a significant need that’s been communicated to the students. These improvements will improve quality of life for them and the adjacent ARC services in Stone will enhance advising as well.”

The renovation and fee increase proposal was heard on a second reading at the SGA’s meeting last month.

The board met again Tuesday, but tabled the measure until its Jan. 28 meeting to allow students time to give feedback on the proposal.

If approved by the student leaders, the fee increase would still need to be approved by the TBR.

If all of the appropriate pieces fall into place to move the fee and plans along, Sherlin said the college could contract design work next year and begin construction work in May 2015. The entire project is forecast to be completed by fall 2017.

Parts of the Culp Center, including the Cave, underwent minor cosmetic upgrades this year, including adding a Taco Bell restaurant.

The last major renovation of the building was a $7.5 million refurbishment and mechanical systems upgrade completed in 2008.

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