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February 16, 1995

Senate committee discusses plan for dormitory on Pitt Tavern site

Senate Council's plant utilization and planning committee (PUP) at its Feb. 6 meeting was offered no further details by senior administration on plans for a 300-400 bed dormitory on the Pitt Tavern site along Fifth Avenue.

Although PUP was given the leadership role in development of the University's master space plan by Chancellor J. Dennis O'Connor, members of the committee were not told about the dormitory plan until a few days before Senior Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance Ben Tuchi revealed it at the Pittsburgh City Planning Com-mission's Jan. 24 meeting.

The master space plan, which was endorsed in draft form by Pitt's Board of Trustees on Oct. 21, outlines the physical development of the University over the next five, 10 and 20 years. Construction of a 200-bed dormitory is mentioned within the first five years of the plan, but no location is given. However, the Pitt Tavern site is suggested as a possibility.

PUP Chairperson Jim DeAngelis was first contacted about the plan and Tuchi's announcement on Jan. 19, when Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Management Thomas Hussey informed him of it by voice mail. DeAngelis replied to Hussey's call with an electronic mail message in which he voiced surprise at the timing of the dormitory plan and its announcement at a public meeting before it had been discussed with PUP, or any other University or community group involved with the master space plan.

"What I had understood was that gradual progress was being made to examine the true potential for that site's development as a suites hotel and conferencing center," DeAngelis wrote.

According to DeAngelis's letter, the suites hotel and conferencing center plan was discussed for the site along Fifth Avenue between Bouquet Street and Oakland Avenue at recent meetings of both PUP and the Board of Trustees' property committee. He noted that the ad hoc Pitt Tavern committee had previously rejected a dormitory proposal for the site.

DeAngelis also noted that a good faith statement had been made by the University in the master space plan promising a comprehensive student housing strategy within six months of the plan's acceptance by the city. He pointed out that the housing strategy is supposed to include input from interested groups both within and outside of the University. While acknowledging that the dormitory may turn out to be a good idea, DeAngelis told Hussey he was concerned that the plan had "not been openly discussed with the committees on which I participate and may not have been openly discussed in the context of the comprehensive housing strategy or its intended process. Indeed, I'm not sure where substituting student housing for the hotel/conference center leaves us on what I think we all agreed was a meritorious concept: a suites hotel and conference center." At the Jan. 24 Planning Commission meeting, Tuchi said the University plans to begin soliciting proposals for construction of a dormitory on the Pitt Tavern site within a month. Associate Vice Chancellor for Business John DeVitto told the University Times this week that he is currently working on the proposal solicitation and expects to have it ready within the deadline period.

At PUP's Feb. 6 meeting, Hussey told the committee: "I have not seen anything. So, I can't add anything to Dr. Tuchi's remarks." When asked by DeAngelis if he could provide any information on the originally intended use of the Pitt Tavern site to house a suites hotel and conference center and whether there is now some other site under consideration, Hussey again said he had no information. He told PUP that conversations have been held on those issues, but he was not part of them.

DeAngelis said: "Those are my concerns because when we last were talking about these projects there was strong support for the idea of a conferencing center with a suites hotel and our preconception was that indeed that site might not be of sufficient scale to accommodate it." DeAngelis said PUP would be interested to see what developers propose for a dormitory on that site. "I would want that to be compared in some way against other potential uses for the site, namely a suites hotel and conferencing center. Or to know that the idea is to do that somewhere else," he said.

PUP member Cynthia Vanda said she attended a meeting called by DeVitto at which a representative of National Development Corp. proposed expanding the Holiday Inn as an alternative to a suites hotel and conference center on the Pitt Tavern site.

Vanda said the developer suggested using the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) lot near the Holiday Inn and the Masonic Temple. She said the developer apparently was not aware of plans to use the Masonic Temple as a library facility when the suggestion was made.

Both the Katz Graduate School of Business and Graduate School of Public and International Affairs have expressed a need for a conferencing center and suites hotel on campus.

About National Development Corp.'s suggestion, Hussey said: "Briefly, the University is prepared to listen to anybody who will meet our conference center needs at no cost and no risk. That's sort of where we are on that." Tuchi proposes comprehensive housing strategy working group In other housing news, Hussey presented PUP with a Feb. 6 memorandum from Tuchi announcing that he has asked Chancellor O'Connor to convene a comprehensive housing strategy working group.

According to the memorandum, the working group is a first step toward development of a comprehensive housing strategy. As DeAngelis noted in his letter, under the master space plan the University is required to complete a comprehensive housing strategy within six months of acceptance of the plan by the city Planning Commission.

Exactly when the city will approve the master space plan is not known. No date as yet has been set for the next Planning Commission meeting on Pitt's master plan. However, Planning Commission Chairperson Thomas Armstrong indicated at the commission's Jan. 24 meeting that he hoped the commission would take action on the master space plan in late February or early March. According to the memorandum, the goals of the working group will be to: * Develop and oversee implementation of those elements of the comprehensive housing strategy that can be accomplished by unilateral institutional action.

* Develop the timetables and plans called for in the master space plan. Progress reports will be presented in a regular and timely manner to PUP. Ultimately, the working group will provide a final comprehensive strategy report to PUP prior to its submission to the Planning Commission.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Business DeVitto has been appointed by Tuchi to coordinate the working group. Members of the group will be drawn from the offices of the Provost, Student and Public Affairs, Business and Finance, PUP, the Community Interface on the Master Plan and the Oakland community.

Provost advisory committee on student housing proposed Relative to the working group, Vice Provost for Academic Planning Bob Pack proposed the appointment by the provost of an advisory committee on student housing and residential life. Pack said the advisory committee would have some of the same members as the working group so that each group would be aware of what the other is doing. He said the intention of the committee would be to focus on the academic goals that student housing is designed to advance.

"This provost advisory committee would focus on the development of greater community among students and a strengthening of the University-student relationship," Pack told PUP.

If the University is to achieve its academic goals, Pack noted, the academic and social environment must be significantly enhanced and student housing and residential life are key components. He said a provost advisory committee could explore the housing-learning center concept or the integration of academic facilities into student residential facilities and the balance that should be sought between the academic and the social in housing.

According to Pack, the committee would include the offices of several deans, particularly in the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering, for undergraduate students, and the various graduate schools for graduate students. It also would have faculty members involved in Student Life, members of PUP, Housing and Dining Services and the Office of Student and Public Affairs.

The advisory committee would complete its work by May 1, Pack added.

Hussey responded by pointing out that Tuchi is trying to accomplish some of the same things that Pack suggested with the working group. He added that the working group also should include a representative from UPMC and maybe a few other areas to further broadened its constituency.

PUP's DeAngelis said he was concerned that creation of another committee will not work in the best interest of the University because it may slow down projects.

"I don't see how one committee can do the things that we talked about having the provost committee look at and look at a whole other range of issues, such as siting," Pack said.

PUP members replied by pointing out that a representative of the Office of the Provost is included in the membership of the working group.

–Mike Sajna

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