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February 2, 1995

Planning Commission told of plan for dorm

Some people were taken by surprise when Senior Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance Ben Tuchi revealed at the Jan. 24 Pittsburgh City Planning Commission meeting that Pitt plans to build a 300-400 bed dormitory on the old Pitt Tavern site along Fifth Avenue between Bouquet Street and Oakland Avenue.

Among those who were caught off guard by the announcement were Jim DeAngelis, chairperson of Senate Council's plant utilization and planning committee (PUP), and members of his committee.

"There was no presentation made to the PUP committee on the current idea of using that site as housing, but we expect to hear more at the PUP committee meeting on Feb. 6," DeAngelis told the University Times.

PUP was given the leadership role in development of the master space plan by Chancellor J. Dennis O'Connor when the University restarted its master planning efforts in 1991. PUP is comprised of representatives of the faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students, as well as the Pitt administration and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

The master space plan, which was endorsed in draft form by Pitt's Board of Trustees as part of the University's "Toward the 21st Century" five-year plan on Oct. 21, outlines the physical development of the Pittsburgh campus over the next five, 10 and 20 years.

According to the master space plan, market studies indicate the current demand for on-campus student housing to be about 2,200 beds. The plan calls for new undergraduate housing to be concentrated on the hilltop near Sutherland Hall and the hillside near existing fraternity houses. Construction of one 200-bed dormitory within the next five years is mentioned in the plan and is to be followed by an 800-bed facility within the next 10 years, the mid-range of the master space plan.

No location for the 200-bed dormitory is given in the plan, but Fifth Avenue between South Bouquet Street and Oakland Avenue, site of the Pitt Tavern, is suggested as a possibility. Tuchi's announcement about the dormitory was in response to criticism voiced by Oakland residents to the Planning Commission about the lack of student housing projects in the short-range period of the master space plan. Neighborhood groups also have expressed concern to the Planning Commission about plans for the convocation center and the effect it might have on traffic and parking in Oakland, and the lack of a complete transportation plan within the master space plan. In making his announcement, Tuchi told the Planning Commission that Pitt will release a request for proposals from private developers for the new dormitory within one month. At the same time, he said, the University will undertake a survey of undergraduate housing preferences and requirements to identify factors considered critical by students in selecting housing. Results of the survey will help guide further construction plans, he said.

In response to complaints by Oakland residents about rowdy behavior by students living off campus, Tuchi said Pitt's Board of Trustees at its next meeting will be asked to approve an amendment to the Student Code of Conduct that will subject the behavior of students off-campus to disciplinary action by the University. The move is expected to improve student behavior off campus.

Reform of the Commuter Resource Center's Off-Campus Housing Service also is planned, according to Tuchi. He said the University will require participating landlords to provide a written warranty that their properties comply with city and county building codes and regulations.

"We believe these actions are consistent with the spirit and intent of the strategy [master space plan] and attempt to be responsive to the concerns expressed by representatives of the Oakland community," Tuchi said.

In his statement, Tuchi also asked the Planning Commission to examine concerns voiced by Oakland residents in light of the following: * Pitt has made a five-year, $20 million commitment to renovate existing on-campus student housing. Over the past three years, the University has spent almost $10.2 million on housing and will spend another $5.3 million this summer.

* A $24 million commitment was made to new on-campus housing with the completion of Sutherland Hall in 1992.

* The Centre Plaza Apartments were purchased by the University for the use of graduate students in 1993.

"Since 1992, the University has made a substantial commitment to improving and expanding student housing opportunities," Tuchi said. "We offer the record of the recent past, our current actions and our commitment to future planning as evidence of this commitment." About the planned construction of a convocation center on the OC parking lot next to Pitt Stadium and worries by residents about additional traffic and parking problems, Tuchi maintained that the center is necessary for a number of reasons. He said the University needs such a facility on-campus to conduct commencement exercises, host large academic convocations, assemblies and expositions for the benefit of students, and to host major athletic competitions such as wrestling, volleyball and gymnastics.

"One of these needs is for an on-campus intercollegiate basketball arena which will make it possible for our men's and women's programs to be truly competitive with those of similar institutions in the Big East and NCAA," Tuchi told the commission, adding, "But, please understand, this is just one of the needs to be met by the construction of this facility on the site identified in our master space plan." According to Tuchi, the need for the convocation center is even more clear when it comes to indoor recreation, intramural sports, club sports, physical education instruction, and other intercollegiate athletic activities and indoor recreation programs for both the University community and the community at large. The master space plan allows use of the center by members of the local community on a space and time available basis.

Tuchi pointed out that the only indoor athletic facilities Pitt has built over the past 30 years have been Trees Hall and the Cost Sports Center. During that same period, he said, the University's enrollment has increased by about 10,000 students, its faculty and staff by about 2,600, and intramural teams from approximately 300 to more than 700.

In addition, he noted, Pitt has doubled its intercollegiate athletic program by the addition of eight varsity women's sports.

"The critical need for additional space is obvious," Tuchi said. "Simply put, construction of the convocation center coupled with the renovation of the Field House and Trees Hall facilities will have a major beneficial impact on the quality of campus life and create the opportunity for expansion of recreational programming." According to Tuchi, the advantages of constructing the convocation center next to Pitt Stadium are clear and will yield unique benefits. * It will allow the University to make substantial improvements to the stadium. New press and visitor boxes and support areas would be configured to serve both the convocation center and the stadium.

* The razing of existing boxes in the stadium will improve spectator circulation on the upper deck.

* The convocation center's location near the stadium will allow its concourse to serve as a "street" to improve pedestrian circulation on the upper campus.

* It would permit all athletic facilities and offices to be connected internally.

The third major concern, after housing and the convocation center, that Oakland residents have with the master space plan is its lack of a completed transportation plan. Tuchi told the Planning Commission that the transportation study promised in the master space plan still has not been completed, but it is progressing. He added that regardless of the findings of the study, Pitt will continue to work at improving traffic and parking conditions in Oakland. Among the actions Tuchi said Pitt has taken or is planning to take to improve traffic conditions in Oakland are shuttle services, ridesharing programs, incentive programs to encourage the use of public mass transit by employees, stricter parking law enforcement, initiation of a bicycle program, the creation of satellite parking lots outside of Oakland, conversion of the van pool fleet to natural gas to reduce pollution, and the addition of $400,000 in new lighting and 18 emergency phones to make walking safer.

To ease the traffic burden created by football games, Tuchi's report noted, the University also has developed and implemented a plan that uses signs, parking information assistance and shuttles to speed traffic movement.

In addition, Tuchi said, Pitt has joined with Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham College, Carlow College and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to create a transportation subcommittee of the Pittsburgh Council of Higher Education to study traffic problems. The University also is a participant in the Oakland Transportation Management Association, the planning and transportation subcommittee of Oakland Directions, Inc. and the transportation subcommittee of the Oakland Task Force.

"We know of no other major employer in the city who has done as much to address traffic and related environmental concerns as does Pitt," Tuchi told the Planning Commission.

Tuchi added that the transportation study being conducted as part of the master space plan should, when combined with studies of the City Planning Department, the Oakland Transportation Management Association and other Oakland institutions, provide sufficient data to further address transportation problems in Oakland.

Planning Commission Chairperson Thomas Armstrong called the University's plans for a new dormitory "a step in the right direction" and said it showed a good faith effort on the part of Pitt to address the concerns of Oakland residents.

Marshall Goodwin of the Oakland Agreement Committee, a community coalition, also praised the plans for a new dormitory, but noted that it will still leave Pitt about 1,800 beds short of what the master space plan says is needed to ease the shortage of on-campus undergraduate housing. Goodwin criticized the master space plan, too, as simply "a list of buildings" that the University wants to construct. He said it is not cohesive and integral to the community and needs to be looked at in terms of Oakland and the city as whole.

"Right now we are not doing that," he said. "Right now we're looking at the University wanting to build some structures and they want to build them in certain areas. But how is that going to relate to the new zoning requirements? How is that going to relate to the new Oakland plan? These things are important and I feel, and I think most of the people in our community feel, we have to slow this down and look at it as integral to the city and to the community, not just a list of buildings that the University wants to build." After hearing testimony from other Oakland residents disturbed by the unsightly fence around the site of the former Syria Mosque and concerned about Thackeray Street possibly being closed and parents forced to pick up their children from Frick School along Fifth Avenue, Armstrong said the Planning Commission would hold another hearing on the master space plan in four to six weeks. Armstrong did not give a date for the next meeting. But he said it would give the planning department an opportunity to prepare another report on the master space plan. He added that he hoped action would be taken on the plan at that meeting.

–Mike Sajna

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