Despite budget, UMass construction keeps school moving
For University of Massachusetts students and employees who can’t enjoy a professor’s three-month retreat, a sultry summer around campus can be a frustrating holiday.
Many full-timers across celebrated the solstice this year with something of an office purging. And in turn, you can be sure that student employees took the heavy end of the bargain. That’s because summertime at UMass spells one thing: Renovations.
But with more than 40 construction projects peppering the campus, from roof repair to the building of a new $50 million recreation center, the administration’s thought of mounting costs and employee frustration would seem non-existent.
The question easily follows: In light of the state and local economies, could UMass be spreading itself thin with all these costly projects? Hearing the constant crash and scrape of big machinery this summer, it is certainly tempting to say yes. But in the long run, the short answer is no, not really.
Because not all building projects around campus draw their resources fistful out of the exhaustible well of student dollars. Thanks to the Division of Capital Assets Management (DCAM) a state institution like UMass can get some help.
It comes in the form of financial planning and public-building management, which employs cost-effective strategies for maintaining long-term construction. DCAM oversees hundreds of public projects statewide and makes sure that money is being spent wisely and that the people who are working on them are, well, credible and certified.
There are several on-going projects around UMass associated with DCAM. A significant one is phase two of what DCAM dubiously terms “Dubois Library Improvements.” This entails the entire upgrade of a worn-out heating and cooling system and the other safety improvements that must accompany it. The estimated cost of phase two is $13 million, according to DCAM’s website.
Sounds reasonable enough. But, of course, no good construction is ever done without pounding hammers and making something of a racket – it’s just when people have to hear and see and smell it that they get annoyed.
Picture people at the main level computers with headphones, trying to ignore the buzz, saws and drills. Picture contractors sweeping across the floor with wood beams and metal pipes. That is exactly what happened in the W.E.B. Du Bois library this summer.
It all started back in 2005 because the library’s main floor had fallen into disrepair due to poor drainage and water leaks. So a project was hatched to fix some design issues, which included work on the waterproof membrane system and adorning the concrete plaza on the main level. That was phase one, and it cost $6 million.
Fast forward to June 2009. It just so happened that some employees were working in the way of the phase two renovations. For safety reasons, a temporary partition was needed where reference librarians had worked for many years, and they were forced to relocate.
For some, it was a difficult move. Those employees who have put decades into UMass surely had memories, and change isn’t always easy.
Melinda Mcintosh, a passionate reference librarian of many years, is just one example. When asked for comment about the library construction, Mcintosh told me she would be happy to talk.
“Though I won’t be able to say certain things about how I really feel,” she said with a wink.
To get a clearer picture of the higher powers at work, I interviewed Theresa Warner, the library’s assistant director for administrative services. I asked Warner how she would respond to a passer-by who, naively, scoffed at how much money appears gobbled up in these campus renovations.
“Because people can’t afford to renovate their homes in this economy, they think UMass can’t.” she said.” I know the process; I see jobs being created and maintained, and that’s a good thing.”
Her opinion offers a taste of that old American work philosophy: Keep building. Keep building because it keeps people at work, even if a community’s need for it is sometimes usurped by more immediate needs.
I’ve both witnessed and participated in the Du Bois library renovations this summer, and despite everything, I’ll say it’s a good representation of that philosophy at work. It’s a strange brew of elements swirling around in there. The feelings and personalities of the employees so greatly contrast with the seemingly gruff determinism of it all, that it’s a wonder how they work together. But the amazing thing is, they do.
Evan Haddad is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.