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UAFS officials provide update on new campus fitness center

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith's Board of Visitors received an update Wednesday (April 30) on the university's planned new fitness center.

According to Dr. Lee Krehbiel, UAFS vice chancellor for student affairs, the university has narrowed the list of potential architects for the project, which will be funded through a $5 per credit hour fee approved by the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees earlier this year.

"The committee (in charge of hiring an architecture firm) has been meeting. They've narrowed the proposals and we now have, I think, a top six — the top three of which will go forward in May to the Board for approval."

While the UA System Board has already approved the specific fee increase at its March meeting, which was held on the UAFS campus, it must still approve the UAFS overall tuition and fee structure for the upcoming school year, which Krehbiel called the final "hurdle."

"The one remaining hurdle, if you will, is that this will go to the UA System Board in May as part, again, of our overall tuition and fee request. And so at that point, if it goes through, that will solidify our ability to get the bonds out, hire the architects, begin work on a construction manager and hopefully then within a few months, we'd be looking at another groundbreaking."

UAFS held the groundbreaking for the new $15.5 million visual arts building on April 21. The building will be constructed along Waldron Road and Kinkead Avenue across from the Stubblefield Center.

The new fitness center is also part of the university's 20-year master plan, unveiled in October 2013. UAFS Chancellor Dr. Paul Beran said the master plan's overall price tag "in today's dollars" is around $200 million and calls for a variety of new projects and construction, with the focus of new construction being around the school's iconic bell tower.

As for why the university opted for building a new fitness center at this time, Krehbiel said it came down to the same problem UAFS has been facing for years — lack of space.

"We had a situation where while it functioned and continues to, we had multiple uses. Athletics uses the facility, academics uses the facility and general student population for recreation purposes uses the facility. So (sometimes) we literally had to close the fitness center so we could accommodate the class load in there. So it made it very difficult for students to even plan their workouts. So the need was pretty clear."

While no firm date has been set for a groundbreaking or an opening date and no cost estimates have been formally presented, Krehbiel said students who begin paying the fee during their academic careers at UAFS will be able to come back and use the facility upon its completion. It was a move, he said, that "leveled the playing field" and got more students to buy into the concept of a fee hike to pay for the facility.

In other business, Vice Chancellor for University Advancement Dr. Mary Lackie discussed naming opportunities for the new visual arts building. Naming rights for various rooms and locations throughout the new structure vary in donation to the university, from $5,000 up to $500,000.

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Beran also noted that UAFS was in the process of restructuring the College of Education into a School of Education which would be under the university's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs. He said the move would better prepare the university's students to obtain math and science-based education degrees, with graduates in those fields being highly sought after in the education industry at a national level.

He said it was also part of the university's ongoing evaluations to see which colleges should be collapsed and moved into other colleges. According to Beran, such changes are "imminent in growing the efficiency" at the school.

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