Student Union construction continues with an ‘uncertain’ timeline

Scheduling without a definitive timeline poses challenges for student businesses and organizations

Collegian+File+Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Kathrine Esten and Aidan Poole

The Student Union renovation has continued at the University of Massachusetts, but the timeline for student groups moving into the space remains uncertain.

While the campus has put social distancing protocols in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, construction workers are included in the COVID-19 Essential Workforce under Gov. Charlie Baker’s Emergency Order. Edward Blaguszewski, the executive director of UMass News and Media Relations, said that “if all goes well” the Student Union will open during the fall of 2020.

“However, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is wide-ranging and makes all schedules and timetables uncertain,” Blaguszewski said. “We will continue to do our best to open the facility in the fall, but always with the first priority being public health and safety.”

COVID-19 has complicated the plans for registered student organizations and student businesses which, after being relocated from the Student Union to Bartlett Hall during the 2018-19 academic year, were planning to move into the renovated facility this summer. Blaguszewski said that “all plans and timetables for moving student groups” from Bartlett Hall to the new building are also “uncertain.”

Rachel Ellis, the interim president of the Student Government Association, said the move was originally planned for the summer, but “will likely be during the fall.” She stated information would be released at the beginning of the next school year to facilitate the move.

While she hasn’t received many questions or communication from the student body concerning  the move, Ellis said she is open to talking more about the issue and that the SGA social media will keep students informed in the meantime.

“We’re pushing forward with the process and making sure that as soon as the new Student Union is ready, we can move in,” Ellis said.

RSOs and student businesses, which have operated remotely since the suspension of in-person classes at the University, expressed concern over the timeline and talked about the challenges of planning for the move while off-campus.

Mia Crockett, a co-manager of Campus Design & Copy, said she was looking forward to the new space, as their current location on the third floor of Bartlett made the business less accessible to potential customers. Now, she is unsure when students will be able to return to the campus and how the move will take place at all.

“We don’t even know if we’re coming back as a business in the fall,” Crocket said. “The current reality of it is that no one knows. That’s the scariest part of all of it.”

The University has been helpful in financial planning, Crockett said, citing assistance with payroll. While she knows the University is unable to plan too far in advance due to the outbreak, she expressed hope that communication with student businesses would improve regarding the move.

“It really feels like we’re being left out of this situation and we’re not able to properly prepare as a business,” Crockett said.

Isaac Hoeh, a co-manager of Bike Coop, is similarly looking forward to moving to the renovated Student Union, as he hopes it will increase their business and visibility on campus. However, Hoeh said he just “found out in February we were not moving back to the Student Union until the spring semester” of 2021, whereas many groups have been told they’re moving in during the fall semester. He feels there’s been few updates on the move and thinks his business has not been “in the loop.”

Although Hoeh is unhappy that Bike Coop cannot operate due to COVID-19, he understands that there hasn’t “been much contact from the University” because the University “lacks information as well.”

WMUA, the University’s student-run radio station which is currently located in the Campus Center, had a similar challenge of not knowing when staff will be able to return to the University. Taylor Cassidy, the WMUA programmer, said she didn’t know if staff would be on campus this summer to assist with packing.

“We’re all trying to remain positive but are kind of worried about things becoming more disjointed as time goes on.” Cassidy said. “There’s not a whole lot of motive to complete the things that we would have completed by the end of the year.”

Timothy Ennis, the president of UMass Democrats, said  that “[the move is] only going to be made more complicated by COVID-19. “Debate watch parties and other club activities could also be disrupted due to social distancing guidelines even if students return to campus,” said Ennis.

Although he anticipated UMass Amherst would move to remote learning after Amherst College made its announcement, Ennis said, “there had not been enough, in my opinion, transparency” about the University’s decisions. He also said that he hopes to regain a space in the renovated Student Union that was once his organization’s “hang-out spot” but worries that student groups are not getting the attention they deserve.

While the timeline for moving into the new space is unclear, several students hoped the upcoming transition would be smoother than the previous one.

Ennis expressed concerns about making plans to move into the renovated Student Union because the initial move to Bartlett Hall in 2018 was disorganized and planned poorly. He said his group’s cardboard cut-out of Barack Obama was “either thrown out or lost” in the move along with other supplies.

In Bartlett Hall, UMass Democrats had to share an office space with multiple other student groups, including UMass College Republicans, and UMass Model UN. Since this space was more open than their previous office, he recalled that they had their property vandalized. Someone “tore up a vintage campaign poster,” Ennis said. “You can’t replace that.”

Ennis expressed concerns that the move back to the Student Union will be just as messy because “there’s been such poor communication with student groups” on the subject. He stated “I don’t think we ever heard anything from the school” about the anticipated 2020 move.

Timothy Ruscitti, a co-manager of CD&C, was part of the team that handled the original move to Bartlett Hall. During the original move out, there were “so many moving parts,” Ruscitti explained. Working with different parts of the University and coordinating with moves, students relied on the Center for Student Business to make sure equipment made it to their new spaces. The day before demolition started, a printer was saved from the former CD&C office.

“[It was] a bit messy in terms of communication,” Ruscitti said.

Ellis agreed, saying, “It was kind of a rushed process and students didn’t have the time they needed to pack up and move over to Bartlett.”

Hoeh also expresses sentiments that the initial move from the Student Union was very sudden. “We’ve been in the Student Union since the late 80s,” Hoeh said, only to be told to leave. He thinks that student businesses and groups “didn’t have any agency” in the decision but considers himself “very lucky” that no equipment was lost or damaged in the move.

WMUA, which was not involved in the previous move, had concerns that equipment could be mishandled if the process was rushed: “We wanted to make sure the University knew how to handle the broadcast equipment to make sure it wasn’t broken,” Cassidy said.

Reflecting on the challenges of working in a temporary space like Bartlett Hall, Ruscitti said, “I think it’s going to be good for the future once we get into the new Student Union.”

Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @Kathrine Esten. Aidan Poole can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @aidanmpoole.