University plays with idea of increasing undergraduate fees to build new classrooms
A $450 per-semester fee could be levied on undergraduates for a new classroom building if the University of Massachusetts administration accepts a motion from the Faculty Senate.
The new building would be located northeast of the campus pond, next to the Hasbrouck Laboratory.
A study done by the architectural firm Burt Hill suggests that in order to be on par with other major schools, UMass would need to spend $85 million on a new academic building. The firm compared classrooms and buildings at UMass to those at the other schools and found UMass facilities to be subpar in comparison.
“We need to renovate,” said UMass Faculty Senate Secretary Ernest May. “We build all sorts of things, but the main purpose of the school is teaching, and we haven’t addressed that.”
May added that the useful life of a building is about 40 years, and in many cases, the buildings on campus are still used far beyond this expiration. Some buildings, most notably the University Apartments until just recently, are still in use despite having been condemned. May specifically mentioned South College as a building in need of renovation.
Originally the money for the new building was going to come from the state, but the “state has backed out on us,” May said.
With the state facing large deficits for fiscal year 2011, it is unsurprising that they are unwilling and perhaps unable to fund a new building at UMass.
The University may need to raise part of the money in the form of more student fees.
May noted that there was a precedent, as students voted to fund the new Recreation Center through fees. May also stated that perhaps UMass administration would not go for the full $85 million building and instead choose a smaller, less well-equipped, but cheaper $40 million building, which would lower the required fee. May said that the question is whether students will be willing to pay a few hundred dollars more per semester in order to take classes in good rooms.
The proposed building would be, May said, “not exclusively classroom space.” There would be some departmental space with a ratio of 60 percent classrooms to 40 percent offices. There would be auditoriums and regular classroom space.
May compared the Herter classrooms, with their desk chairs and limited space, to the classrooms commonly found in high schools, to what they want the classroom building to resemble, like the facilities in the Isenberg School of Management and the Integrated Sciences Building.
Several sites for the classroom building were considered, including the tennis courts near the Mullins Center, but the site near Hasbrouck Laboratory was chosen because of its centrality and ease of access for the largely pedestrian student populations of Sylvan, Orchard Hill and Central.
May was concerned about how the construction of the new classroom building will affect the already complex traffic and parking situations on North Pleasant Street.
“The campus needs parking structures,” he said. May also said that flat, asphalt parking lots are inefficient and environmentally unfriendly, but noted that parking spaces are very expensive.
He pointed out that the University of Washington has a policy of adding two floors of underground parking whenever they build a new building, and that when faced with a similar traffic snarl at Harvard, they turned a street into a tunnel so the students could walk normally but the cars were shuffled underground. However, he does not see such solutions as workable at UMass because of the expense and the fact that the town of Amherst, not the University, owns North Pleasant Street.
The UMass Faculty Senate meets on Dec. 15, and a motion to advise the University to build the new classroom facility will be on the agenda. May said that the Faculty Senate is already willing to sponsor a poll in the spring semester to gauge student support for new fees for the building.
Matthew M. Robare can be reached at email@example.com.