Coffman renovation worthy of student fees

In recent weeks, Coffman Union has been publicizing plans for a proposed renovation. This $50 million project would upgrade the student union to include more general space, a bookstore and a first-run movie theatre, as well as a redevelopment of the South Mall. In general these projects would upgrade Coffman Union to an increased level of functionality on par with, and even above, other Big Ten campuses. Project funding would come from two primary sources: $45 million from student services fees and $5 million from new student union tenants. Students should support the Coffman Union renovation because it would revitalize the center of campus and provide benefits well worth the price.
The $45 million in student services fees would be assessed in increments. Beginning in the 1999-2000 school year, $30 ($15 per semester) will be assessed to each student, in addition to the present fees. This annual fee will increase to $60 in the 2000-01 school year and by $30 again to $90 for the 2001-02 school year, where it will remain for approximately the next 20 years. This fee schedule is certainly controversial, and not without its critics. But the fees are worth it.
Renovating Coffman Union will turn the student union into a focal point of campus life. The new amenities the student union will provide will encourage students to stay on campus for social, not just educational, reasons. The campus will become a place to gather during evenings and weekends.
Unlike other Big Ten schools, our University lacks a fully functional student union. The additional fees may seem like a hardship, but it is not out of line with the funding mechanisms other universities use. Students do not like increased fees. It is important to understand that fees do pay for something. For once, students will see a tangible result from their fees.
Another complaint is that many students in the first two years will pay for a renovation, the benefits of which they will never enjoy. This argument is flawed for a couple reasons. First, juniors and seniors should view the renovated student union as a legacy they will bequeath to future students. Second, to the extent that this new union adds to the University’s reputation, students will find their diplomas more valuable. It is time University students take some pride and ownership in the institution they attend.
Some question why private funding cannot play a bigger role in helping defer the cost of the renovation. According to the Coffman Union Board of Governors, a study was commissioned and private fund raising was not shown to be feasible. However, the board has failed to adequately elucidate these reasons. Perhaps if the board published this study on its Web site students would feel more comfortable in knowing why private funding is not possible.
In the final analysis, it is reasonable to expect that student services fees should play a role in financing the Coffman Union renovation. Like the University Recreation Center and Boynton Health Service, this project merits inclusion among our fees. University students should support the renovation. It would provide a shot in the arm for Coffman Union and the University in general. It is not about flushing some money down the drain, it is about turning Coffman Union into a place worth visiting.