Dr. Charles Ping walks with a cane, slow and deliberate; making sure every step he makes is a good one.
The former Ohio University President, current President Emeritus and philosophy professor is now 82 with health problems that have firmly taken hold of his body.
Bilateral knee implants, back surgery, shoulder surgery and drop foot in his right leg are just some of the problems Ping has encountered, yet he pushes on.
The one place he helped create and bears his name is the place keeping him able to walk today, the Charles J. Ping Recreation Center.
“To get my rehab started I had to walk from end of (Ping) to the other end on the second floor using a walker, then gradually I used a cane, and that turned into exercise bikes,” Ping said.
The building was opened in January 1996, a year and a half after Ping retired as president.
The building has three floors, measuring 168,000 square feet.
It holds five basketball courts, a 36-foot rock climbing wall, an elevated indoor track, eight racquetball courts, exercise rooms and two multipurpose gymnasiums.
“I visited a half-dozen (recreational) facilities and a committee visited more and among those facilities I think the design was just wonderful,” Ping said.
The Ping Center has had no major renovations done to the facility itself, but has had many equipment overhauls because of the changing technology.
“When I first got here (in 1998) we had a Stairmaster, cheap treadmills and a cheap bike, that’s it, but now we have a variety of ellipticals and the treadmills haven’t had waiting lines in years,” Ping Director Hafedh Benhadj said.
Before the facility was built, all recreational activities at Ohio University were located in Grover Center.
Ping said this space was cramped and a new recreational building was needed for students.
“There was student interest in a facility built for recreational purposes. Bowling Green had built one and the students were saying ‘We need one’. Well the state will not fund any buildings not used for academic purposes and this was, as the students wanted it, not to be a building used for academic purposes,” Ping said.
The state would not pay for the building, so the money had to be assessed to the students’ general fee.
“We made sure the students understood they were committing future generations of students to pay off the debt. After they examined it, they did agree to build it under three certain conditions,” Ping said.
In order for student senate to approve Ping, the building’s fee could not be assessed until it was ready for use.
Also, no intercollegiate athletics could use the facility and no academic classes would be allowed at Ping.
The student senate also recommended to the Board of Trustees that the building be named after Ping.
The students are still paying off the bonds used to fund the construction, as well as the operation and maintenance of the building.
According to a recent “Post” article, current students pay nearly $400,000 a year for Ping, or $19.34 per student.
Benhadj said that many students would like to renovate the building because they think it’s old, but they don’t realize they would be paying for it.
“The average student has no real sense of how much things cost,” Benhadj said.
He said a 1,200 square feet space on the second floor would have cost close to $500,000 to renovate in 2007.
“Some students say ‘do this or do that.’ OK, where’s the money? I’d be more than happy to buy you whatever you want, if you have the money,” Benhadj said.
He said one treadmill can cost as much as $10,000 and any major renovation to the building isn’t possible.
“It would cost a lot of money to make major renovations, we’re talking millions, not thousands,” Benhadj said.
Benhadj said despite students complaints about upgrades; he estimates that 80 percent of students currently use the facility.
“I’m a runner so I like the option that you can go on a plethora of treadmills, I also like the indoor track and I love that there are two different weight rooms,” Thomas Liauba, a sophomore student who attends Ping three to four times a week, said.
Sophomore Luke Kuhner, who is certified as a personal trainer at Ping, said working out is a big part of his routine and he loves how he never has to wait for any equipment.
“With two weight rooms and so many other things at Ping, I love not having to worry about not getting my workout in on time,” Kuhner said.
Ohio University is planning on opening a new multipurpose facility in the fall which will give the university’s athletic teams an indoor practice facility.
“I think (the multipurpose center) will relieve some space for some of our intramural sports in the winter time, especially outdoor sports,” Benhadj said.
He said it will not take away from Ping because it is not another recreational facility, it will only be used for the university sports teams and some intramural sports.
In the future, he said it will be up to the administration to decide when Ping gets an upgrade, but he doesn’t see it as high on the priority list.
“Ping Center, as old as it is, is only 17 years old and compared with some buildings that are 50 or 60 years old, is not very high on the priority list,” Benhadj said.
The building can be used by all students, faculty and alumni, including Ping himself.
He likes to tell a story about when Ping was chosen to be named after him; the graduate student president protested it because he wanted an academic building named after Ping instead.
“I was flattered, but I also knew it was just a nuisance and so I called him in and told him to back off because I was pleased it was a student recreational facility and I would probably use it about as much as anyone,” Ping said.
He is still rehabbing constantly despite his age and refuses to give up.
“(Rehab’s) not something I can complete, it’s something I will do the rest of my life,” Ping said.
He wanted to give students something they would be able to use before he retired.
It turns out he needs it more than it needs him.
The outside of the Ping Center from across the street.