Students at Louisiana State University will soon be able to soak up the sun in a manmade “lazy river,” part of an $85 million leisure project under way despite the school's desperate financial situation.
I will put it up against any other collegiate recreational facility in the country when we are done because we will be the benchmark for the next level.”
- Laurie Braden, LSU director of recreation
The "river," which is more like a pool and spells out "LSU," is part of a campus recreation project that includes an outdoor adventure center, a rope-climbing course and a 21,000-square-foot sun deck. The Baton Rouge school hopes to have the project done in time for fall of 2016.
“I will put it up against any other collegiate recreational facility in the country when we are done because we will be the benchmark for the next level,” LSU Director of University Recreation Laurie Braden gushed when construction on the project began two years ago.
The project comes even as the state, grappling with a $1.6 billion shortfall in its next budget cycle, is considering cutting $500 million in higher education funding. Last month, LSU President F. King Alexander announced the school was drafting the equivalent of an academic bankruptcy plan in response to the state budget crisis. The school has not begun the process of filing an exigency plan yet, but is prepping in case it is deemed necessary at the end of the next legislative term.
Such a plan would give Alexander latitude to make tough cuts, including laying off tenured professors and shutting down programs.
“Under the current circumstances and due to the continued unpredictably of our state budget, we believe this is the responsible thing to do, and we will re-evaluate the offering once the state's financial picture becomes clearer,” the school said in a news release.
The university maintains the money for the campus construction development has nothing to do with the budget woes. The money came from a special student fee assessment, approved in 2011 and earmarked specifically for the project.
“The funds for the project come directly from the student fee and can only be used for the project,” LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard told FoxNews.com. “Similar to donations to the university or funds from the state for capital projects, these types of funds can’t be shifted to fill in budget holes or be used in another way.”
Jeffrey Sadow, an associate professor of political science at LSU's Shreveport campus, and a frequent blogger on government waste, said state taxpayers subsidize public university tuition at a high rate relative to other states. While he is not surprised that students and families balk at the idea of tuition hikes, Sadow said raising the cost of attending the school while cutting unnecessary costs is the fairest way to bring the university budget under control.
"Funding for this aesthetically pleasing, but dubious project undercuts arguments that families are too strapped to pay more, allowing taxpayers to pay less at LSU," Sadow told FoxNews.com. "If they can afford increased student fees to fund this project, surely they can afford higher tuition and fees instead of foisting this responsibility on taxpayers. Or they should reallocate these fees toward the academic activities of LSU and create more fairness in how higher education is funded in Louisiana."
Fancy aquatic centers are a big trend in the collegiate world, and often touted as a tool for recruiting students. Texas Tech University has a 645-foot "lazy river," while the University of Iowa’s recreation center features both a lazy river and a 25-person hot tub.
Aalia Shaheed is part of the Junior Reporter program at Fox News. Get more information on the program here and follow them on Twitter: @FNCJrReporters