Strategic Planning Committee holds talkback session, seeks student input on proposed wellness center

The Strategic Planning Committee of Allegheny College held a student-focused talkback session in the Brooks Hall Blue Lounge on Monday, Dec. 4. The event allowed students to ask committee members questions about the plans for a wellness center in Schultz Hall.

Architectural drawings were displayed and showed the plans for fitness and cardio spaces to replace a large portion of the Schultz Banquet Hall area. Another component of the remodeling would merge the services now met by the counseling center and the Winslow Health Center in the space currently occupied by the Office of Financial Services. The project would make spaces available for wellness programming, as well as enhance the accessibility of counseling services.

Eileen Petula, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the college, said the project would be driven by student input.

“You have an incredible amount of power over what the space looks like,” Petula said. “The last thing I want to do is spend money on stuff students don’t like.”

Petula said funding has not yet been approved, and the project does not currently have a formal budget. Likely funding sources would involve either donor campaigns or debt restructuring. Petula compared the project to regular facilities and maintenance spending, which the college does regularly.

“On any college campus, you have defined maintenance projects, and financial support to invest in facilities every month,” Petula said.

Petula said a recent study concluded Allegheny spends less money than other colleges on maintenance, and that the college has the potential to invest even more into its facilities.

Petula stressed the importance of accessibility for the project.

“I won’t touch a building without making it more accessible and inclusive,” Petula said.

The college employed the Pittsburgh-based architectural firm Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff and Goettel to design the project.

Lisa Carver, principal architect of the project, emphasized the project was just getting started.

“We’re in the very beginning of the process,” Carver said.

Kellie-Sue Martinucci, ’18, attended the talk because she and her friends were worried about the financial aspects of the project. Martinucci said they were concerned about the project not offering much for them and prioritizing other types of students, such as athletes.

“I saw the email a week or so ago about the meeting’s existence. I hadn’t heard anything else about the project, and I talked to some friends after I saw the email, and the general consensus was that they were planning on making a new weightlifting section,” Martinucci said. “And among most of my friends, who are primarily humanities or smaller departments, there was concern that the school was prioritizing a different type of student than any of us were represented by.”

Martinucci said she and her friends were concerned that smaller academic departments, such as Religious Studies, were losing a substantial number of faculty due to the college being in a tight financial situation.

Petula clarified while the college was trying to decrease the number of students and faculty, the shrinkage was not related to the wellness center. Rather, Petula said the college was trying to downsize academically, becoming slightly smaller and more selective. The college did not want to hire new people to staff the facility but would try to utilize its current workforce more efficiently.

“We’re still going to offer the full breadth of the curriculum,” Petula said. “This doesn’t change that.”

Petula clarified the faculty decreases were due to the college trying to become smaller, and suggested it did not make sense to decrease student enrollment while keeping the number of faculty constant.

Petula also said while the project was in its early stages, it was doubtful the wellness center would include spaces which athletic teams would reserve. Additionally, the college would retain all equipment available at the David V. Wise Sport and Recreation Center.

Martinucci said she felt comforted knowing the project was geared towards the entire campus community, not just student-athletes. She said she still questions the necessity of the project, given the college’s financial situation.

“I definitely feel the meeting addressed my concerns about the priorities of the project,” Martinucci said.

Martinucci also felt better after seeing how aggressively Petula stressed the role of student feedback in the project.

“I’m also comforted by the extent to which the organization is taking into account our opinions,” Martinucci said. “I feel that they are genuinely listening to us right now, especially because this is in the planning stages.”