SGA hears proposal to build YMCA on Innovation Campus


Brian Hayes

John Tomblin, vice president for research and technology transfer, speaks at a student government association meeting. Tomblin is the president of the nonprofit organization that manages Innovation Campus. (File photo; Mar. 1, 2017)

The Student Government Association heard a proposal Wednesday night entailing a potential partnership between Wichita State and the YMCA that would bring a new fitness and wellness facility to Innovation Campus by instating a $7.75-per-credit-hour student fee.

Vice President for Research and Technology Transfer John Tomblin spoke during open forum to propose a 60,000-square-foot facility combining a YMCA-run fitness center with drop-in day care for students and an independent, university-run wellness and therapy facility.

“We’re the last university in the state of Kansas to get a new recreation facility, and this would be a way to link that with a new wellness facility and drop-in daycare,” Tomblin said.

The proposal would automatically make WSU students YMCA members, allowing them access to approximately 2,700 locations nationwide.

Some in attendance at the public forum questioned why the university would invest in a new facility when the Heskett Center could be renovated instead. According to Tomblin, doing so would not be financially realistic.

“It would cost anywhere from $11 to 15 million to build on to the Heskett Center which, like creating a new facility not affiliated with the Y, would require the university to borrow money from a bank,” Tomblin said. “It will probably be 10 years before the university will be in a financial position to bond money.”

According to Tomblin, the Heskett Center would continue to operate intramural athletics, club sports, and other programs currently provided through Campus Recreation. However, some individuals, such as Director of Campus Recreation Eric Maki, questioned whether partnering with the Y would detract from a mission of student development.

“The YMCA is a fantastic organization, but their primary responsibility is to create an environment for families,” Maki said. “Campus Recreation is about student development.”

Others worried the partnership could leave certain Heskett workers out of a job and that the proposed student fee would cause students taking the most credit hours to bear the brunt of the financial burden.

Students and faculty alike voiced their opinions on the proposal during open forum, and SGA is preparing to take the issue to debate and a vote in the near future, Student Body President Joseph Shepard said.

“Next week, we’re looking to craft a resolution that the Student Government Association is in support of the YMCA coming here and increasing the student fee to support the building infrastructure of the wellness center,” Shepard said. “That will be the student senators’ opportunity to determine how we move forward in the situation.”

Whether or not SGA passes such a resolution, Shepard said he recognizes the unique opportunity WSU has been given.

“We don’t know how long the YMCA is going to leave this deal on the table for us,” Shepard said. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime for the university which doesn’t mean that they need to take that opportunity, but I think that they need to act swiftly and make a decision.”