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OPINION: Sook Center is unnecessary

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The Perry and Sandy Sook Academic Center. Rendering via Ohio University.

As construction continues on a multi-million dollar tutoring facility for student athletes, opinion writer Tim Zelina argues it’s unnecessary and the university’s reasoning for building the facility is unclear. 

Ohio University has started construction of a massive academic center built exclusively for student athletes. Named after its primary financiers, the Sook family, the Sook Center will be a $6 million investment built adjacent to Peden Stadium. Actual information of the layout of the center is not publicly available, but it will be designed to service more than 450 students with study rooms, classrooms and facilities for utilizing the center as a welcoming area on game days.

$6 million is a pretty penny for a university that claims to have budgeting issues. It’s easy to support this project on the basis that the funds are practically all raised through donors. If it’s free, why not build it? This is an easy argument to make, but it misses a fundamental aspect of how the funds have been secured.

Ohio U did not have donors flocking to it with instructions to make the Sook Center. The university administration drafted this project themselves, then actively sought out donors in order to finance it. This project is not free. The university is using critical donors, and the time spent contacting and convincing them, to finance a completely unnecessary project.

These donors could have been approached about expanding Alden, or renovating Dirty South, but the administration decided against that. Or, more likely, the thought never even entered their heads.

This waste of donor generosity seems to be the last hurrah of the great Pres. Roderick McDavis, noted for recently “retiring” (taking another job in the process) so he can flee the state in the midst of an active investigation. He has topped off his great legacy with yet another fantastic waste of campus resources. Thanks, President Emeritus McDavis!

Of course, we can’t just blame McDavis. It’s the current administration who are fulfilling this objective, and they’re the ones who now bear responsibility.

One may ask what the problem is with the current academic center exclusively available for student athletes, the 10,000 square foot Joan and Wallace Phillips Center in Peden Stadium.

The university doesn’t have an answer to that, but they do have a lot of money they’re willing to blow on something that will service 0.013% of the student population who already have this service. Make sense yet? No, probably not. But when you’re on the Board of Trustees you don’t need sense.

Perhaps the sole benefit of this project is to bring much-needed additions to make the building Americans with Disability Act (ADA) compliant. Of course, this could obviously be done without the extra millions for adding an academic center.

Maybe you’re one of the students who lives in a dorm where the sink squirts out brown, foul-smelling sulfuric water and the elevators break down, trapping you on your way to a sociology exam. Maybe you wish you could find a table in the perpetually overcrowded Alden, or maybe you wish Bentley Hall had consistent heating.

Yes, those could be issues that the university could be spending the money on, but where’s the fun in those? Besides, it’s not like you’re an athlete the university exploits to make big bucks, so why should they care for you? This isn’t a public university we’re all spending a hundred thousand dollars to attend. Why invest in fulfilling basic infrastructure promises when you can waste millions on something barely anyone will ever use?

There’s nothing wrong with giving student athletes a place to study that’s geared to work with their athletic schedule. Athletes have unique needs that require special consideration. The problem is this university has a facility that fulfills this purpose already, and there’s no indication it’s not working. Besides making it more glamorous (which is entirely unnecessary for a school in need of a lot of renovations), there is no practical reason to build a second student athlete center, especially since it takes away vital sources that faculty and the general student body could very much use.

This project comes off as a frivolous waste of money, perhaps even more insulting to the Bobcat community than the renovations at Latitude 39. For a university that underpays its workers and requires countless new renovations, it is simply ridiculous our administration has prioritized fundraising to build a new version of something that already does a fine job. Even the most athletic Bobcats can agree this project has no real utility.

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