Offices at the Humboldt Aquatic Center overlook the water and docks. Many of the offices facing the water, according to employees, are now occupied by The Office of Alumni & Engagement and the HSU Foundation. | Photo by Carlos Holguin

Legal doubts over HBAC misuse

Students and faculty voice discontent with treatment of Aquatic Center

Students and faculty voice discontent with treatment of Aquatic Center

The Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center continued to be a pressing topic in University Center Board meeting.

At the Sept. 10 UC Board meeting, members of the board including Faculty Representatives Steve Martin and Mark Rizzardi showed continued frustration at the decisions made by members of HSU Administration that affected the Aquatic Center.

According to Martin, moving the Office of Alumni & Engagement and the HSU Foundation into the HBAC office spaces, displacing employees happened without approval of the UC Board.

An anonymous source close to the situation said, “Of the inside office space, they’ve taken over about 95 percent.” The problem is, according to the source, HSU is now accumulating the spaces outside.

Acting Interim Executive Director Todd Larsen claimed he visited the center to talk to employees and listen to concerns, but did not speak further on the matter or address any issues brought up by members of the public during the meeting.

The anonymous source stated that while Larsen did meet with members of the HBAC to discuss the possible solutions and issues occurring, he also sent out an email that stated he wanted full control of the situation.

“An email went out saying not to talk to the media,” the source said. “That Larsen wanted to control everything we were discussing.”

Mairead Sardina, operations supervisor at the HBAC, said during the Zoom meeting that the UC Board’s lack of leadership on the issue was discouraging.

“The Aquatic Center has major changes happening and the Board is yet to address that,” Sardina said. “It is very important that we feel that there is not this apathy or lack of urgency that are everyday affecting our staff members.”

Sardina said that while she has been working with Larsen to find a proper balance, there is simply not enough space to allow external programs within the HBAC and maintain the level of safety needed to operate.

“They have taken all of the space upstairs and the downstairs front lobby office,” Sardina said. “At first I was told that my new office was the maintenance closet, which was just truly OSHA unsafe. I really, truly do not believe that it is not safe for this city to be putting people out on the water without an office that overlooks the water and the dock.”

Sardinia’s sentiments were reinforced by the anonymous source, who called the HBAC a command center. Working with both the city of Eureka and the state of California to teach proper boating, waterway safety and acting as onsite lifeguards, the HBAC struggles to remain in active command when faced away from the water.

“This is a command center. We can’t command if we are facing the road,” the source said. “HSU cannot afford to lose one more student.”

Associate Professor Genevieve Marchand said that she was also surprised about the lack of action but focused on the safety risks posed to students and the community due to the changes.

Marchand worked with Center Activities and the Aquatic Center to create the the Outdoor Assistantship Program, where students can learn valuable skills like boating safety and making risk management positions.

“In this case, we are talking about the life of people and the future employment of our students,” Marchand said. “I feel like it has been completely disregarded.”

According to Rizzardi, the University’s disregard of safety protocol may be in direct violation of the agreement made between the city of Eureka and HSU.

The agreement created and signed in 2003, stated that the HBAC, then known as the Boating and Instruction Safety Center, would be leased to the university on the agreement that they use to space “…to provide a program of boating and water safety instruction and other educational uses to students, faculty and staff of Humboldt State University and boating and water safety instruction to the general public.”

Recreational use of the space can only occur when it does not interfere with the ability to teach the needed lessons.

The lease also stated that HSU could not “…assign, sublease, or otherwise convey ant interest in this Lease…” without the prior consent of the city. In addition, any organization that the city does consent to occupy space within the HBAC must adhere to the same rules as HSU itself.

“As far as I can tell, we are in total violation of that agreement right now,” said Rizzardi. “I think this seriously needs to be looked into.”

If the City of Eureka finds that the contract has been violated, they are allowed to take legal action against HSU, including fines and the possibility of voiding agreements.

The Property Management Division of Eureka was reached for comment, but did not respond in time of writing this article. No members of the Board of Directors or HSU administration stated if the required written notice of changes were given to the city.

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