March 2, 2009

Cornell Fitness Centers Cut Costs During Recession

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As every business responds to the trying economic times, Cornell Fitness Centers has been making adjustments to its business model as a result of the hiring freeze and self-imposed cuts.
Although the University budget cuts do not affect the CFC, the company has decided to impose its own financial constraints.
Tisha Tipping, director of CFC, explained that their business operations are separate from those of the University.
“The fitness centers are actually in a unique position,” Tipping said. “We don’t receive any money at all from the University to operate the fitness centers.” According to Tipping, Cornell’s four fitness centers, Appel Commons Friedman Fitness Center, Helen Newman Hall, Teagle Hall and Noyes Fitness Center, are run entirely on membership revenue. The CFC, however, decided to cut costs in reponse to the University’s instructions for campus-wide cuts.
“We have really done well at controlling our expenses because my professional staff has actually set it as one of their primary goals to be fiscally responsible, When the University said everybody on campus needs to cut costs, we’ve been able to do a lot of things first [before affecting our professional staff],” Tipping said.
Tipping explained that while the fitness centers are financially independent of the University, they still abide by the policies of the Office of Human Resources. As a result of the current hiring pause, any professional employees working full-time — either 40 or 20 hours per week with full benefits — cannot be replaced without Cornell’s approval. Student hiring, which is an ongoing process, is “tapering off,” however, as the approximate 250 employees have covered all required student hours.
“[The financial situation] has not affected the hours that the professional staff are working at all. Expense cuts do not include cutting hours, because President [David] Skorton set a high priority for people’s job preservation. We’re different because we’re a little business,” Tipping said.
According to Gabrielle Tan ’12, however, part-time student staffing has been affected by the hiring pause. “During opening sign-ups [at the beginning of the semester], we’re required to sign up for 12 hours in six shifts. But second semester, since they couldn’t hire back any newly graduated seniors from the fall or anyone new because of the freeze, the shifts were made to be two and a half hours, and picking up five shifts wasn’t enough. Last semester, you only had to work 12 hours and you were okay,” she said.
To promote efficiency as well as save money, Friedman Fitness Center at Appel Commons will be closed on weekends starting next year, according to Tipping. She did not mention a specific date. As indicated by gym occupancy records, the Friedman Fitness Center was much less occupied on weekends. Since the fitness center is also under contract with residential life and housing for the cleaning of Appel, the cost of cleaning will be reduced by almost $3,000, and the reduction of hours will save about $17,000 on student staff per year.
Supplied by an approximate 13,000 student/faculty memberships, the fitness centers are still able to generate a surplus of funds after paying off all salaries and benefits, replacing and maintaining machines, parts, and group exercise equipment, and paying a set $95,000 — $144,000 effective next year — salary to the athletic department for “handling various business operations.” This extra money is placed in a reserve account specifically designated for 10 years’ worth of large equipment purchases. Next year, the account will fund the replacement of all treadmills from the year 2001 in the fitness centers in Appel, Helen Newman, and Teagle. The project will amount to $150,000 in total.
Tipping recognized Jason Bond, who is responsible for the maintenance of all treadmills, bikes, and ellipticals, as one of the centers’ most efficient money-saving practices. Having Bond on staff five days a week instead of having to pay service contracts for these pieces saves time and money. An agent from the machine’s seller would have to “fly out, stay overnight in a hotel, troubleshoot the machine, have parts Fed-Exed out, then fix the machine and fly home,” she said.
“He is so good at what he does that we’re going to change the cycle of how we buy new equipment. He is going to make all the bikes go one more year by changing certain pieces rather than buying a whole new bicycle,” Tipping added. “We have no plans at all to reduce the number of pieces or quality of equipment, and we’ll fight tooth and nail to keep the quality where it is currently,” Tipping asserted.
To fitness center users, these changes have not been noticeable yet. Matthew Rosenthal ’12, a gym member, has not experienced the impact of the economy on his daily workout routine.
“I haven’t noticed any changes from first to second semester,” Rosenthal said.