Building a Better Tomorrow…But Who Brought All This Red Tape?

For students both new and old, construction is nothing surprising or unexpected at UMass. We’ve had the new science building under construction for a good two semesters, we’ve had a pathway added near Bartlett, a walkway in front of the Integrated Science Building, repairs done to the sensitive derriere of the Fine Arts Center, and there are plenty more fences erected and topsoil upturned then it’s worth mentioning.

Many of the projects were brought about through contracts with bidding construction companies, and the largest projects are supposed to be along the guidelines of the university’s “master plan.”

The strangely sinister-sounding “Master Plan,” is basically a 10 year plan of the campus’ construction projects, budget surplus/deficits (mainly deficits these days), concerns about problems with previous master plans, and generally, what needs to be done to create a better campus. Talks for the newest Master Plan began about a year ago, with some low-key meetings with the public to begin shaping what should be done with the university for the next 10 years.

The current plan (currently a work-in-progress) seems sort of optimistic in an a rather aggravatingly oblique way, because there are still so many uncertain and unspecific aspects to the plan. After attending a couple of the sessions last semester, I know that many ideas are getting replaced as soon as new information about budgets or school priorities are factored in, so goodness knows when we’ll have an idea of what will or won’t happen.

But here are some key issues that have come to my attention, I can find no concise answer or administrative defense to them, and I’m working to be able to make at least some sense of them in subsequent posts:

1. With all the new buildings planned, and minor construction being done all over the campus, what’s going on with the $2 billion in deferred renovations, repairs, and new buildings? We have yet another new science building being put in while other departments have been languishing in buildings that have been splitting at the seams for years (I’m looking at Bartlett, the Agricultural Engineering building, and I know there are plenty more to mention), and for what? At face value, it makes it seem like the administration may be playing favorites with majors, and I’m hoping there’s more to that.

2. Why is the university accepting so many students while having nowhere to house them? I understand the idea of accepting more than you can actually carry, because it’s likely close to the familiar concept of party invitations: always expect some people to never show up. Problem is, these people are showing up, and this has been a problem that the administration has been dealing with (I’d hazard to say badly) for years.

Doubles made into triples and then into quads, lounges converted to quads (Orchard Hill is one example I can think of in particular). Yet the university, much like the bloated Mr. Creosote from “Monty Python’s: The Meaning of Life,” just keeps consuming more and more, before simply hitting the bursting point. Where will it end?

3. What on earth is that condemned building beside the Minuteman Marching Band’s building? It’s been condemned for years, and unlike the old university apartments destroyed in 2009, it’s been sulking in plain view of the Mullins Center for no discernible reason other than to unsettle anyone that looks upon it. If that’s the point, good show, UMass.

4. What does it exactly take to get anything built on this campus? I’ve been told by someone in the administration that after slogging through the seas of bureaucratic red tape, in order to get a building suggested, approved of, bid upon, contracted, approved of a grant, funded, and finally breaking soil, it can take upwards of 10 to 15 years. If such a thing is true, it seems to be a staggering waste of time, effort, and money on everyone’s account. Should a building conceived of up to 15 years ago still be relevant to the needs of today? I hardly think so. Can I get anyone in the administration to actually comment about it on the record?

Over the next subsequent posts, I will show what I have found for each of these questions, or what questions have continued to elude me. If there are any points that it seems that I have egregiously missed, don’t hesitate to point it out.

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