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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 bbenson@student.umass.edu.

Comments
20 Responses to “Building for band and why it should have to wait”
  1. Nate Sullivan says:

    My roommate is in the band. He has to go out onto the rape trail to practice because he’s not allowed to practice in the fine arts center because he’s not a music major. I think the building makes a little more sense than the new rec center does.

  2. I’ve got to agree with Nate [no relation] about the band needing space more than we needed a new rec center.

    I spent a while talking to folks in the band for a piece I produced for GazetteNET.com back in the day.

    Not only are these kids more dedicated than most people give them credit for, but the band and its leadership – namely George Parks – are nationally recognized for their talent.

    Of course, it’s always a question of ‘where’s the money gonna’ come from?’ in the midst of a recession.

  3. Rick says:

    I dated a bandie. She had band 2 hours every day rain or shine. I only watched once but I dont know how they do it. It was November! It was freezing cold and everyone was wearing 20layers! They still ran around and did things that looked awsome. I think its worth it.

  4. HA! Didn’t Umass just spend $60-million+ on simply BUILDING a new rec center (not even including the juice bar and all the equipment in it.) WE ALREADY HAVE 2 FULL GYMS ON CAMPUS! How many times have you gone into Totman to find you’re the ONLY one working out? Great idea Umass, build a third gym when you can’t get people into the 2 you already have. At least the band DOES something! If I have to hear that pre-canned music that Umass tries to play over the speakers one more time, I’m going to cry. Let the band play more! They made a giant pirate ship on the field! That’s insane!

    LONG STORY SHORT: Quit trying to find something to complain about and go eat your “all natural, all organic, locally grown” cereal with the silver spoon your parents gave you.

  5. Lauren says:

    I live with band kids and am related to a former band member and I have to say that there is not an organization that deserves a permanent building more than the UMMB. My friends dedicate so much of their time to support your school and are truly entitled to have a place to call home.

  6. M. Clouse says:

    Once Brian Benson hits the real world he will see that infrastructure is important. You have to keep the campus up-to-date. Buildings age and need repair or replacement. The old chapel was condemned. The building that houses the band office is also condemned. The band gets ready for the football games in the Grinnell parking lot!
    It is most unfortunate that Benson does not believe the arts to be an educational priority. The Power and Class of New England has marched for UMass in heat, snow, rain, wind and mud. Why is Benson picking on the band and what has he done for the University?

  7. Eric Thomas says:

    I’m an alumni (’05), but I was not in the band. I came back to visit friends at homecoming last year. While tailgating, the band came by. They played some songs, they interacted with us… they had a blast while being completely professional. At halftime, I decided to stay in the stands and watch their show (something I had never done before, in high school or college). I could not believe what I saw: 300 people playing exciting music perfectly, while running around each other. I even started clapping along with the music at one point! After they finished halftime, I went to get a hotdog and saw the band had a booth set up. I talked to the guy at the booth and he told me the band was fundraising for a building of their own. After hearing how they rehearse in rain and hail, and how students have nowhere to practice on their own, I decided that I would make a donation.

    I loved my time at UMass. Lots of fun parties, lots of easy classes, and I have a great job now because of it (Activities Liaison, Carnival Cruise Lines). However, I had never felt ANY obligation to give back to the Zoo. This band, however, changed my mind. It may not be much, but I was happy to donate $250 towards this building.

    I can’t wait to see them again at homecoming 2011!

  8. John V says:

    The band deserves more than their own building. I’m a former band member who practiced in the chapel. I would say that the things I learned from marching band about being in an excellent group, teamwork, work ethic and peer mentoring were far more important and useful than any of the things I was supposed to be learning from my “real” classes.

  9. Meghan says:

    “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.”

    A classroom for 300 students is a luxury?

  10. Ed says:

    Why is no one complaining about the new 25,000 square foot police station scheduled to open in December 2010?

    (The current station is 8000 square feet.)

    Do we really need a brand new police station that is three times bigger than the current one?

  11. Andrew says:

    I think the main problem here is that everybody thinks in the present. Obviously Mr. Benson didn’t think of the past (the 3000 active band alumni, the 12-years the band has been without a home,) nor did he think about the future (the new alumni support brought by the building, the low maintance cost due to the work of the band’s service fraternity & sorority.)

    Yes, money is tight now. But these plans take YEARS to create… the gears were turning before Mr. Benson was out of high school, and the building may not even be done by the time he graduates university. Trust me, we protested the fixing of the library back in 2002… because we wern’t thinking of the future!

    He is asking for the opinion of people who are here for only a brief moment to be considered more important than panels of professionals who will be here for 10, 20, 30, 40 years longer than them!

    Mr. Benson, next time you go to drink that Miller Lite (yes, we’ve all seen your facebook pictures,) consider the economy and ask if there’s something better you could be doing with your money.

  12. Brian Benson says:

    Dear Andrew,

    You said this: “Obviously Mr. Benson didn’t think of the past (the 3000 active band alumni, the 12-years the band has been without a home…)

    I wrote the following.

    “The marching band has been without a stable place to practice and store its things since 1997…”

    Did you even read the article before you said this? You could have fooled me.

    You also said this: “Yes, money is tight now. But these plans take YEARS to create…”

    Are you aware we have been in debt for years as well, and that these decisions were made while we were in debt? Obviously, the people who decided to spend money on various projects when we didn’t have any weren’t thinking of the future when our fees would increase by about $1,500.

    Don’t criticize me for being short-sighted. It’s not my job to keep track of the University’s dollars. That is the administration’s job, and they are doing a really poor job at it.

  13. Michael Defilippi says:

    I believe the band building and the police building are examples of irresponsible spending. I support the rec center because a large percentage of the students utilize it compared to the minute percentage that are in the band. The police building is the biggest waste of all though. The police budget and force should be cut in half. There is no point in having dozens of officers on during the day to pull people over for not using blinkers and coming to complete stops.

  14. Matt Young says:

    In a time when UMass has almost no consistently successful atheletics programs to speak of, the Minuteman Band is the University’s single greatest ambassador to the rest of the world. Other schools get publicity primarily through their basketball or football teams, and when those programs need money to keep up with the times, it’s made readily available out of recognition that they do more than the average organization to build awareness of the school.

    What the band does for UMass by getting on buses almost every weekend to represent the school at everything from concerts in Boston, to the Big E in Springfield, to presidential inaugural parades, to international sporting events, to musical events across the country contributes more to the well being of the school than the average student organization, and this building is a very small part of the recognition that has been earned over decades of hard work by Mr. Parks, his staff, and the members of the band.

    When other students begin to contribute half of what the band does to putting a positive face on the University across the country and around the world, they can demand that they are entitled to equal spending. In the meantime, the administration should be bending over backwards to provide absolutely everything the band needs to continue to function as a top notch organization.

  15. Zack Vildeschmear says:

    You’re only seeing one side of the coin. The University owes it to the community to provide jobs and economic support and this building will provide exactly that.

  16. Greg Joy says:

    As a response to Mr. Benson, I would like you to pick a class that you are currently enrolled in. I would like you to put your book for that class on one side of campus and all of your notes for that class on the other side of campus. Every time you have class I would ask that you gather your book and notes then head to class. Once in class, take all of your fellow students and professor outside and conduct your lessons for the day. Rain, snow, wind, temperature and comfort are all irrelevant because regardless of the elements you will be outside. At the end of class return your book and notes to their respective sides of campus. If you need to study, collect the book and notes and stand outside and study. I wonder how those conditions would affect your ability to learn effectively. I doubt very much that you would excel in that class. The UMMB has been doing the same since ’97 and has produced a product that is nationaly recognized as the best. Quite simply put, the UMMB has upheld its reputation as well as creating a reputation for the university as a whole and deserves a place to call home.

  17. Nicole says:

    Yet the amount of money the school puts into athletics isn’t pathetic?? At least the band brings pride and recognition to the University! They worked hard to raise money for that building, certainly more than any athlete can say! They suck up the money we put into the University and are pampered by University officials in return! They get well-paid, private, athletic department tutors, athlete-only study rooms with computers and FREE printing! Do you see any other students getting special treatment like that??? It’s about time the school recognize what REALLY matters and things that should truly be supported and encouraged! Well done UMass!

  18. Nikki says:

    I think the band building is a good idea, but not for now. As anyone who read that article now knows, we are in a spending frenzy here at UMass. While the Rec Center was costly, it is utilized by far more people than will ever see the inside of the band practice building. There are more people at the Rec Center at any given hour between 5 PM and 9 PM than members of the marchign band. Not to mention for me and many others, the money we paid to build it means no more gym memberships and free classes that would have cost quite a bit at a private facility. It is a building that makes our campus more valuable and attractive to new students. More students means more money for the university, a future possibility of lowering rates and increases in areas like payroll making it possible for more professors and classes. Everyone who comes to look at this school will see it. What does the marching band building do for us?

  19. Chris says:

    Nikki says: “What does the marching band building do for us?”

    how about support the band which is probably the best thing we have related to athletics on campus? We’re the joke of so many sports, yet there’s no problem spending countless more millions to help them? At least the band is fun to watch, even if we’re laying down on the field and dying during the game.

  20. Mike says:

    Oh, Brian. You have dug yourself a hole too big to escape from with this one.

    “Don’t criticize me for being short-sighted,” you exclaim. “Are you aware we have been in debt for years as well, and that these decisions were made while we were in debt?”

    By making these statements, you have proven yourself short-sighted. The plans to build the band a place to practice was set in motion long before UMass found out it had a budget issue (yes, even before New Dirt).

    “It’s not my job to keep track of the University’s dollars,” you say.

    Well, then maybe you shouldn’t have written an article concerning the school’s budget and its expenditures.

    You point out that the band does not have proper facilities, yet offer no solutions. This leads me to believe that your priorities might not lie with the school’s budget, but with your disdain for the University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band.

    I’m sure you do not realize how much influence the marching band has over the world. Yes, the world. How many organization on campus are known throughout planet Earth? Does our psych department stand out to psych students from France? Do Japanese chemists dream of learning from our chemistry teachers? I think the answer to those last two questions is a resounding “no”.

    I’d recommend talking to a student or two in the marching band (I know, that would be journalism, and this is the Ed/Op page). Really listen to what they have committed hours and hours each day and night to. Then you can make your judgements.

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