Building a Better Tomorrow…By Deferring $2 Billion in Repairs?

$2 billion is quite a lot of money. A lot. Like, enough to pay for one full year’s worth of education at UMass for 90, 399.5 students. Or approximately 27, 777, 777. 8 24-can cases of Monster Energy Drinks for these diligent 90,000 students. Sufficient to say, it’s a lot of money. Problem is, that’s how much money the school has delayed spending to repair, renovate, or revitalize the aging UMass campus.

Here’s what the current Master Plan says:

  • Current deferred modernization of $2 billion impacts academic, research, and student life programs
  • Almost a million square feet of space in poor condition
  • Nineteen buildings not in compliance with local building code
  • Infrastructure systems require substantial improvement and expansion (storm water, electric, etc.)
  • No swing space is available to facilitate renovation or demolition
  • Historic buildings are an important connection to institutional heritage, but frequently underutilized
But why did they defer it? Where this money get put into? Are there any plans of actually seeing these upgrades?

As far as I’ve been able to tell, there seems to be a bit of construction coming to begin chipping away at that $2 billion, but it’s not all sunshine and dancing excavators. I don’t know if these projects have any direct relation to the $2 billion, but seeing they lead to a better campus, we’ll just say they are.

On the dancing excavator side, there are plans to build a Commonwealth Honors College, and provide a new place for the linguistics, journalism, and communications department. Construction actually began on the Commonwealth College back on Nov. 9, and is slated to finish as soon as 2013.

It was originally suggested way back in 1997, the facility is supposed to house 1,500 honors students, honors administration offices, classrooms, etc, and is planned to be plopped between the Boyden Gym and the Recreation Center in the south of the campus (handily marked by the red circle on the left). This project is supposed to take $186.5 million to build, but this hardly begins to scratch the surface of the $2 billion.

The new building for journalists, linguists, and… communicators is currently called the “New Academic Classroom Building,” and is supposed to take $85 million to build. The folks over at the Collegian seem to be getting mixed messages about its specifications though, because one article claims it will be four stories with 1,900 seats, and another claims it will have five stories with 1,800 seats. The article with the five stories was written back in Nov. 2010, and the article citing four stories was published in Sept. 2011, so perhaps the plans changed over the course of one year?

Regardless, this 150,000 square-foot building is planning to tout a energy-efficient construction, projectors, Smart Boards, dedicated audio/video labs, chalkboards…

Wait. Chalkboards? I didn’t even know people willingly used chalkboards these days aside from tired horror cliches and those people buying that spray-on chalkboard stuff for their cars. I guess college really is a valuable learning experience.

This is college junior-level mspaint skills at work.

Moving along, this building is supposed to be placed by the Campus Center, the campus pond, and the Student Union, with the two most likely places marked as a reference on the picture here on the left.

So that’s up to $ 271.5 million. Not even close to $2 billion. Let’s keep looking.

A pedestrian bridge over the campus pond is currently being tossed around as a possible option, however walking around the pond is the probably one of the more pleasant parts of the dull trek from the boonies of Sylvan to the opposite side of the campus for class. As one of the only unbroken stretches of grass and water (albeit mildly stagnant) on campus, a bridge would just sully the occasional serenity of the area, in my opinion.

I can’t find any plans for UMass’ Old Chapel, which has been condemned since 1996, and has been repeatedly denied the $10 million it would apparently need to be usable again. So I guess for now, it’ll keep being a 127 year-old paperweight for the campus.

An issue I am coming across is the lack of word about these other deferments. We’re only at $281.5 million, and there’s quite a laundry list of other issues that haven’t been covered.

We’ve still got the overbooked students, that damned damned building, and what it even takes to get something built at UMass. Stick around.


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