Board of Trustees Approves Design of Athletic Academic Center

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A new academic center at the heart of Ohio University’s athletic fields is in the design phase after approval by the Ohio University Board of Trustees on Friday.

The board recognized opposition by representatives of the Faculty Senate in their report from Thursday’s Resources Committee meeting in which the naming, design resolution and site approval for the Perry & Sandy Sook Academic Center were presented.

All but one of the board members voted in favor of the sight plan approval and design phase, which will cost $620,000, according to a memo to the board from Deborah Shaffer, Vice President for Finance and Administration and Chief Financial Officer.

“The purpose of this project is to address deficiencies and undersized study spaces in support of higher retention and graduation rates as well as higher academic performance of our student athletes,” Shaffer wrote in the document.

The project is budgeted to cost a total of $6.1 million, with $5.7 million coming from gifts and pledges, $352,000 coming from athletic reserves and $100,000 from century bonds, the document stated. If a gap in cash received and open pledges exists as the project continues, Shaffer said an “internal loan” will be given to athletics to cover the difference until open pledges are secured.

The concerns of the Faculty Senate came from representative Joe McLaughlin, and included a fear that athletes were receiving more academic help than others, taking focus away from fundraising opportunities for other projects and the university’s deferred maintenance schedule.

These comments echoed others made by faculty when the project was first introduced to the public.

“We’re creating a special class, social class, on our campus that treats student athletes better than we treat the students in performing arts, the liberal arts, students in a lot of the other units on campus,” journalism professor Bill Reader said in April.

OU President Roderick McDavis said athletes working in groups or on projects with non-athletes would be able to bring the groups to the center to study.

“So it’s open to more than just student athletes,” McDavis said.

The committee also received a letter in support of the center from other faculty members, Viehweger told the board.

At the full Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, Trustee Peggy Viehweger spoke about the project as Resources Committee chair Dave Scholl recused himself due to his status as a donor to the facility. Scholl also abstained from the vote on approval.

“It was a good discussion, an open-minded discussion,” Viehweger said.

The 10,000 square-foot center would double the size of the university’s current student-athlete facility, located in the fourth floor of Peden Stadium, according to university officials.

The center will feature a classroom with a capacity of 50 students, 40 computer lab stations, 13 tutoring and study rooms and staff offices, the university said when the plans were first announced in September 2014.

The facility plans also increase concession and restrooms for Bobcat football game days, and serve as a hospitality center for donors and fans.

Construction is set to begin by 2017, but a definitive timeline for the build has not been set.