Building for band and why it should have to wait
Among the slew of construction and deconstruction projects currently underway, there is another significant undertaking beginning on campus. This is the new building for the University of Massachusetts Marching Band, and it is going to cost us – big. The total price tag associated with this project is an estimated $5.7 million.
And concerned student fee and tax payers have paid for about $4.5 million of it.
Given recent precedents of unrivaled government spending, this relatively small value may not at first appear worrisome. At a time when numbers like $300 billion to $800 billion are regularly thrown around Washington on a six-month schedule like it is the federal government’s new favorite guessing game, it is not surprising how easily people are willing to accept the cost of the marching band building. Perhaps they are so desensitized by the unparalleled numbers about which we hear on national news, or maybe they don’t realize just how serious the University’s budget problem is. Whatever the reason may be, people apparently do not seem to think the cost of projects like the marching band building, which will be near Dickinson Hall, is a big enough problem to collectively oppose.
Now, before I delve into what will inevitably inspire dozens of angry hate letters, I feel like I should briefly discuss the context of the latest construction endeavor on campus. The marching band has been without a stable place to practice and store its things since 1997 when the Old Chapel was condemned and could no longer be used for its space. Since then, the band has practiced on the fields, where one can imagine the elements would prove inconvenient, and other areas like the Fine Arts Center, which offers less than ideal room to accommodate the entire group of over 300. Currently, they are using the Arnold House in Northeast as an office area, where space is already limited.
Now, let’s be honest with our campus state of affairs. This past spring, Chancellor Robert Holub met with The Collegian, the Amherst Wire and MassLive regarding to the University of Massachusetts’ budget. Holub spoke of the estimated $46 million budget deficit and discussed what it will mean for students. In the discussion, he said that class scheduling will be “tighter next year than it is this year.”
You may be woefully familiar with how frustrating class scheduling can be due to seat unavailability. I am quite sure you are familiar with the fees increasing each year. Now, the UMass administration thinks it is a good idea to spend $4.5 million it does not have in the first place and make you pay for it, either through fees or tax dollars. This is appalling, and you should be vocally upset about this.
I want everyone reading this to write a personal letter to the UMass administration. In it, openly condemn its decision to approve the building plans for these projects. Do not think your single voice will be too transient to matter. Go to your computer or get a pen, and write a letter letting the UMass administration know that already struggling students do not want more financial burdens and that the trend of incessantly starting new construction projects is clearly not helping them. Do this even if you write only two or three sentences. It will not take you five minutes. There is a point at which the line in the sand must be drawn, and that power belongs to you as an individual.
One great misconception of the cost of making these new buildings on campus is that the total cost of the project is equal to estimated construction costs. This is false. Factor into the initial estimates the costs – regular state inspections, maintenance, staffing, renovations and zoning regulations – and consider the fact that these costs would exist indeterminately. Suddenly, the plethora of new buildings on campus doesn’t seem so financially practical or appealing. And we don’t need another one with more screeching, drilling and beeping noises coming from ugly machinery in ditches surrounded by hunter orange fencing.
Band members are understandably excited about the making of this building, even if some of them will not be around to enjoy it when it is completed. What they are failing to recognize is that, regardless of how wonderful it may be, and regardless of how relatively insignificant $4.5 million is compared to other things, projects like this play into a larger system of unbridled spending, and the new cost will only hurt us more. To recover from debt, people have to make sacrifices and restrain spending. If we are not willing to make those sacrifices and put our luxuries on hold, we are going to find ourselves in a situation far worse than one where we have to play our instruments outside in the cold.
Brian Benson is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.