Students denied access to open air facilities beyond events

Although students pay mandatory fees to maintain on-campus athletic fields, not all are open for their use.

A Board of Trustees Activity and Service (A&S) local fee committee requested a $1.37 increase to the student-paid fee in May, raising costs from 62 cents per credit hour to $1.97. According to the committee meeting report, the increase was allocated to updating the soccer field and tennis courts.

According to Florida statutes, A&S fees may not benefit activities for which an admission fee is charged. The fees must “benefit the student body in general.”

Seth Benalt, director of event services for the Sun Dome, said the open-air facilities have been restricted to non-athletes since about 2003 because of scheduling conflicts, safety concerns and vandalism.

“None of the Sun Dome and Athletic facilities are available for open, free use other than for the teams that are practicing there,” he said.

Sun Dome director Scott Glaser said vandalism was not the only issue that contributed to that decision, but that safety concerns, including issues with the bathrooms, plumbing and littering, were considered as well.

The possibility of assigning students, faculty members or University Police to supervise student use of the fields has been discussed with Student Government members in the past, he said. However, the designated supervisor would have to clean and maintain the fields, a prospect that usually brings the conversations to a halt.

“If there was a right business plan put together, it would be something that could be considered, and that was where it was last left off three or four years ago,” Glaser said. “None of our athletic facilities are opened, and that’s pretty standard with most universities.”

Improvements were made to the soccer and track fields in 2008 to meet NCAA and Olympic standards. According to The Oracle, Hillsborough County gave about $2.7 million to help pay for the installation of new sprinklers and lights, a new LED scoreboard and a wheelchair-friendly track with a Mondo Super X surface, the same material used on the tracks in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Glaser said it is up to the University to maintain streetlights and ensure that students exercising or playing sports on campus are safe.

The Campus Recreation Center offers five fields that are available for student use in the new Magnolia Fields complex, as well as an open field off of Fowler Avenue.

“If (students) are paying (to get) into the facilities, it is for access to the events in the facilities, not for free use of the facilities,” he said. “The cost of going to any of the athletic events is free. (Students) don’t have to pay for football tickets. You don’t have to pay for basketball tickets.”

Student body President Cesar Hernandez could not be reached for comment.