Rec Centre contract leaves swim team dry

Decision up to students whether or not to allow varsity use

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Two Western swimmers stand, each with their arms crossed, at the edge of the pool

Laura Barclay

LOOKING TO GET IN. Despite having a world class training facility on campus, the Western swim team has been forced to train elsewhere on campus and in London. An agreement, which was drafted prior to the construction of the building, stipulates the building is for general student use, not varsity athletics.

The Western swim team certainly brought home its share of hardware this season. Unfortunately, the team is not quite sure where home is.

After winning Ontario University Athletics gold, the women’s team followed up with a fifth place finish at the nationals while the men’s team also exceeded expectations earning OUA silver. Despite their provincial and national success, back home at the newly inaugurated Western Student Recreation Centre, they have been less than welcome.

“It’s kind of a tease,” men’s team member Nick Topolie said in discussing what it’s like to have an elite facility on campus only to be prohibited from practicing in it.

The new facility " which opened its doors in January " is one of the largest of any Canadian university and boasts a 50-metre pool.

Ruban Chelladurai, vice-president of the office for Institutional Planning and Budgeting, said when negotiations for the WSRC proposal began, the University Students’ Council requested to dedicate the facilities to student recreation purposes, not varsity athletics.

“After lengthy discussions with the USC, an agreement was reached [...] where clear commitments have been made with regards to the use of the WSRC, as outlined in clause seven of the WSRC agreement.”

The agreement between Western, the USC, the Society of Graduate Students and the Masters Business and Administration Association was signed in January 2006, prior to the referendum where students approved a 30 year financing schedule for the project including an addition to student fees.

USC President Stephen Lecce said the agreement is in place to ensure Western students get what they are paying for.

“The terms of that agreement are public … and the decision was to ensure a facility where all students are contributing [financially] is universally accessible for recreation by [...] those students.”

Clause seven of the agreement affirms council’s position by stating all services in the WSRC must be made available to Campus Recreation members after 4 p.m. and prior to 4 p.m., the majority of services must be available.

Gareth Cunningham, manager of Campus Recreation, said he has been directed that majority should mean all until a good assessment of user patterns can be understood.

“From my understanding of talking with the student government, [...] and through the university administration, until we have a good understanding as to what the user patterns are and what the demand really is for recreation activity, we should probably not entertain the idea of Intercollegiate Athletics use, because the whole intention and spirit of this agreement was for a recreation centre.”

Cunningham also mentioned it is difficult to get a true understanding of the user patterns in the pool within just over one month of the pool’s opening. Many Campus Recreation programs such as intramural inner-tube water polo, which saw over 60 teams register in the fall semester, were not programmed due to the pool’s late opening.

Currently, the pool is open for fitness and recreation swims, swimming lessons, Campus Recreation sports clubs and other uses by Campus Recreation members.

The Western Triathlon Club, whose three weekday morning practices coincide with the swim team’s daily practice times, would be directly affected by a decision to open the doors to varsity athletics.

Regardless, club President Greg Critchley " a fourth-year honours business administration student " is willing to share the pool as long as student use is not compromised.

“I think there is enough pool time and pool space for everyone to have their share of the pool. That being said, the varsity teams would take up a lot of the times ... so if there are still reasonable times that people could go in and work out without interfering with their class schedules, and we could share it, then absolutely I think it would be a great thing,” he said.

Swimmers lean against the fence looking down at the pool

Lenore Chesworth, a member of the female quartet that broke two OUA records this spring, said the team does not want to take over the student pool, they just want the opportunity to train in it.

“We understand that it’s a student recreation centre and the students need to have their needs met. We would like to be able to have time swimming there but we don’t want to overstep our boundaries ... we don’t want it to be ours; we understand it’s not ours.”

The team currently trains at the Canada Games Aquatic Centre on Wonderland Road as well as the Thames Hall pool on campus. The Aquatic Centre does not offer the convenience of training on campus while the Thames Hall pool does not have the capacity to hold full team practices.

Topolie said he wants to be proud to train at the new pool and let students see how much the swimming program has built itself.

“Right now, if we wanted to use the pool, we’d have to sneak around and hide the Western logo; which isn’t right. You want to feel proud to be there because you’re at the top level. You want to be able to go in there. It’s exciting for us [to have this facility] and we have to contain that excitement.”

Despite current ambiguities in user patterns, Cunningham indicated it’s ultimately up to Western students whether or not they are willing to share the facility.

“Down the road, is there possibility to have recreational use that coincides with some athletics? Probably would be. But until the students say, ‘Yes, let’s open the agreement up and issue that use,’ we’re not really in a position to provide that.”

Currently, it does not appear negotiations will take place in the near future.

Lecce said he believes the current terms of the agreement comply with the students’ desires when they approved the fee in 2006 and should be upheld.

“I’m not at this moment entertaining an interest in reopening that agreement, but if our council and students make that request of me as their servant, I will.”

Share this article on:

Facebook | DiggDigg |

Copyright © 2008 The Gazette