The projected opening date of the center is Aug. 15, 2005.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Ralph Morrone spent three years working at a Cleveland company after his 2001 graduation from Youngstown State University.
But now he's back, working for a local company.
The mechanical engineering graduate will attend a groundbreaking Monday for the new Andrews Recreation and Wellness Center at YSU.
He says the success of a campaign that has raised nearly all of the $12.1 million needed to build the fitness facility exemplifies a Youngstown characteristic that drew him back to the city.
"Any time you can rally a community behind the campus downtown and raise $12 million to build a rec center, I think you've got a hell of a community there," he said.
Morrone is among a group of students who helped get the ball rolling for a new fitness center on campus. He'll be at the groundbreaking alongside Matt Pavone, another former YSU student who helped make the center a reality.
'Bright spot' for Youngstown
"I'm really excited for YSU and for the students," said Pavone, of Canfield, a marketing student who has taken a break from his studies to work. "I think it will be a focal point as far as bringing new students to YSU and also a bright spot for the Youngstown area."
The success of the fund-raising campaign "shows this was a worthwhile effort," Pavone said. "And, for once, we're not hitting students with another tax," he added.
Morrone said his hope is that a fitness facility will help to foster a stronger campus community at YSU, which is largely a commuter campus.
"It's definitely good to create some kind of family or something to do on campus," he said. "The rec center definitely brings that to the table."
Administrators expect the 65,000-square-foot facility will open Aug. 15, 2005. Plans feature a fitness area, climbing wall, weight room, jogging track, racquetball courts and a spiritual meditation room. It will be attached to the west end of YSU's Kilcawley Center extending over an existing faculty and staff parking lot toward Fifth Avenue.
The lot of about 130 spaces was closed Wednesday.
More than a decade has passed since staff and students first recognized a need for such a recreation center, but it wasn't until 2000 that a student initiative finally gained ground.
Morrone said he had attempted to use other student recreation facilities on campus when he was a student, but they were often occupied by athletic teams or special events. His goal was a new center strictly for student use.
He, Pavone and other students pushed for an election that asked students if they would support such a center if they had to pay for it. Morrone said four such initiatives had failed in the past when they were attached to student government elections.
This vote was a special election held separate from student government elections and it drew one of the biggest voter turnouts at YSU in five to 10 years, he said.
86 percent support
Of students voting, 86 percent supported a tuition tariff to acquire the funds to construct a fitness center.
"I think it was very important to get that vote because it also sent a message to the administration how badly it was needed," Morrone said.
Morrone and Pavone participated in presentations to various YSU groups, including trustees and administrators and began working with then-president Leslie Cochran.
When current president David C. Sweet came on board, the students continued working, pointing out that YSU was the only university in the area without such a facility and that the center would help to retain students and increase new enrollment figures.
It was in September 2001 that trustees asked Sweet to try to come up with an alternative to passing construction costs on to students.
Sweet and other administrators began the fund-raising campaign the following January and, to date, $11.4 million has come from private donors.
The center will be the first building on the YSU campus constructed entirely with private funds since Ward Beecher Science Hall in 1967, making YSU the only public university in Ohio with a recreation center built entirely with private funds.