Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass’ constructed future

By Derek Plante

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Marielle Fibish/Collegian

Behind Thompson hall sits a decaying building built only a few years after the Old Chapel, but this one is kept shuttered and in complete disrepair. Across the campus, construction continues on yet another building for the science departments.

On a campus of seemingly endless construction projects, why has this other historic building been left to rot?  What keeps these old buildings standing at the University of Massachusetts, and what else is being done to prop up this university for future students?

The UMass campus is on the verge of making some of the most drastic changes to its structure since the 1960s and 70s. On the surface, new academic buildings are in the works, the new Laboratory Science Building is well on its way to completion and there have been talks of revamping the campus grounds to be far more pedestrian-friendly. The administration has a set of guidelines by which it decides many of its construction and renovation projects in advance, called the “Master Plan.” Last updated in 2007, it has essentially been the same plan since 1993, and the times have certainly changed.

Up to this point, the “Master Plan” has not been fully followed, and changes in the financial position of the country, even the world, have seriously affected the University’s ability to follow its plans.

First and foremost, the school has fallen critically behind in its maintenance. As it says on the “Master Plan” website, there are certain glaring problems that have not been adequately dealt with or dealt with at all.

Nearly a million square feet of space is in poor condition, and 19 buildings aren’t in compliance with local building codes. In addition, the University’s infrastructure needs substantial improvement and expansion, but the lack of available swing space restricts the scope of construction solutions. And in the midst of all this, many historic buildings are neglected.

What this means is that whilst new buildings are being constructed, the rest of the campus seems to be falling into decay. Buildings commonly cited as an example of these problems are Bartlett Hall, Hills, the Old Chapel and the labyrinthine Morrill Halls. Hills is technically condemned, Morrill is a maze, the Old Chapel has been closed since 1996 and Bartlett has aged very poorly. There are plans for these buildings, but so far nothing has been publicly revealed.

Current plans to remedy these deficiencies include the construction of a “New Academic Classroom Building,” which is to house the journalism, communications and linguistics programs as well as seating for at least 1,400 students. Jim Hunt, Communications Manager at the University’s Facilities Planning Division, said that the NACB will serve as a new “center of the campus.” It is being built at the north end of the campus pond in an “L” shape, so it stretches around Hasbrouck Hall, with frontage on North Pleasant. In the middle, Hunt said, will be “A new courtyard, so it will be a more dynamic, more useful area.” With a price tag of $85 million, construction is supposed to begin within two years and be completed by 2014.

Something is supposed to be happening to Bartlett, but there seem to be no definitive plans as to what exactly that will be. Hunt said it will most likely be replaced, because, like Hills, “They cost more to renovate than replace.”

However, this distinction is lost when a building can be considered historical. South College is an example of this because, as Hunt said, “It’s historical; we need to find a way to fix it that won’t be overly expensive.”

Hunt also went on to say that even buildings like the Campus Center and the Fine Arts Center can be considered historical by this point. “They’ve been around for at least 40 years or so; they’re technically considered historic.” Even the decrepit Horse Barn is considered historic, as it was built only 10 years after the Old Chapel’s construction in 1884.

But preserving the old doesn’t quite help those who need help now, like the students who have been cramped into doubles retrofitted as quads and over 250 transfer students left without a dorm housing in Sept. 2011. One building under construction now may assist in easing many students’ housing woes, or it may prove to be yet another barrier placed by the University.

Janam Anand, secretary of registry at the Student Government Association, said that while new buildings are beneficial, there are “questions of priorities for some new buildings.” Anand lived in a converted lounge during her freshmen year, and she said that the administration needed to “improve the quality of housing as well. I would have loved a lounge to go to rather than not have the option.”

The Commonwealth Honors College Residential Complex, which began construction in November 2011, may or may not aid with the housing shortages. The complex will have housing for up to 1,500 honors students as early as 2013, but at this current stage, regular students may be left in the same cramped conditions they’ve been faced with for years to come.

A representative at the Commonwealth Honors College office said that the housing is currently just for honors students enrolled with the Commonwealth College, “but as it is still in planning stages, it may be opened up, but for now, just Commonwealth students.”

Anand disagreed to this, saying that, “because of the limitations to housing, I don’t see why they wouldn’t allow regular students to live there.”

There is much that’s discussed in the UMass administration that regular students may likely never see. One consolation Hunt gave was that “what people mistake for complexity is thoroughness; once it gets past chancellor committee and board of trustees; it just has to go through routine.” He went on to say the once contractors and designers are found, “it’s bing-bang-boom,” and done.

There are many improvements coming to the UMass campus within the next five to 10 years, too late for the leaving seniors, and perhaps even too late for the incoming freshmen. Time will only tell if the future plans for the campus can match the hard reality of a global economic depression. Perhaps one day the Horse Barn will be a fully-restored monument to the university’s agricultural legacy, as a beacon of historical pride much like the Old Chapel. Or perhaps the rest of the campus will match up with the Horse Barn, slowly crumbling until it all fades into bemused obscurity.

Derek Plante is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at [email protected]


2 Responses to “UMass’ constructed future”

  1. john on February 8th, 2012 12:03 am

    It seems absurd not to properly maintain and bring existing buildings up to the -minimum- standard set by a local building code prior to building new ones. I think it’s clear to say, in all matters the Umass is ran by those who are less than intelligent.

  2. Emily Merlino on February 8th, 2012 1:39 pm

    I agree. I may be biased as a history major, but when we neglect historic buildings, we ruin important resources for future historians.

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