California Grand Jury Criticizes College over Fitness Center Funding

A civil grand jury in San Mateo County, CA, has found that a local college’s use of state funds to build a new fitness center was not inappropriate, but it also criticized the school for not clearly communicating to the public its intention to operate the center, in part, as a private enterprise.

The San Mateo Athletic Club at College of San Mateo is housed within the community college’s $42 million Health and Wellness Building, which was built with funds raised by a $468 million bond issue. The bond was proposed by the board of trustees for San Mateo Community College District and approved by voters through a 2005 ballot initiative known as Measure A.

Measure A’s ballot wording, written by the district’s board of trustees, was so broad that it “permitted generous interpretation in the purpose of the funds,” according to the report released by the grand jury. “For example, college district officials stated that the bond language ‘workforce development center’ was the basis for the construction of the wellness-fitness center.”

Although the campus-based facility is used for educational purposes—as a venue where students receive instruction about and prepare for careers in the fitness industry—it also features a health club that is open to the greater community on a membership-fee basis. The club’s website states that it features a 14,000-square-foot training area with cardio and strength equipment and an additional 5,500 square feet of group exercise studios, along with two lap pools.

According to various media reports, a spokesperson for the district responded that ballot language must be broad in order to allow for unforeseen issues and changing conditions and that the fitness center was mentioned in the project’s 2006 master plan that was made available to the public on the college’s website.

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