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April 1, 1999

Senate committee wants more details on construction projects

Senate committee wants more details on construction projects

With all the hubbub surrounding plans for the Pitt Stadium site and other expansion projects, are related issues being examined?

This was one of the questions members of the University Senate plant utilization and planning (PUP) committee asked at a March 25 meeting.

Committee members also expressed concern that:

* The proposed convocation center, now planned for the stadium site since Pitt's Board of Trustees approved the project on March 18, will be built without proper re-evaluation of its design;

* Uses for the recreation center and convocation center should be spelled out before construction;

* The new Bouquet Gardens housing project would create a natural student congregation space across the street between the law school and Forbes Quadrangle, a space for which there are inadequate plans;

* The flow of pedestrians to and from the convocation center and adjoining recreation center, and to and from the new student housing project, has not been fully studied.

Michael Spring, PUP co-chair, asked for two reports from the administration for the committee's April 13 meeting. He requested information about plans for the thoroughfare in the area bounded by Bigelow Boulevard, Hillman Library, the law school, South Bouquet Street (the new housing project/ Multi-Purpose Academic Complex area), and Forbes Quadrangle. He also requested plans for the expanded use of the convocation/recreation center, which might affect the center's design. The proposed site of the convocation center previously was the OC parking lot north of Pitt Stadium.

Spring said his committee fully supported the administration's vision for expansion. "But let's address the contingencies like soccer, track, the band," which will be displaced once the stadium is razed, Spring said. "We've had a high focus on recreation facilities, but does it make sense to talk about other foci: the arts, for example, and whether the convocation center will be in use 365 days a year, before we set stone."

Randy Richardson, Facilities Management architect, said he would pass the requests on to Ana Guzman, associate vice chancellor for Facilities Management, and she would confer with provost's office staff.

Spring and other members of the committee said they had not received design drawings for the new stadium site projects. "We'd also like to know when it is appropriate for [Pitt officials] to seek the input of this committee," Spring said.

Vice Provost for Academic Planning and Resources Management Robert Pack, who attended the meeting at the request of the committee, responded with some observations on how the stadium site decisions played out after state-supported funding for new stadiums on the North Side was approved Feb. 2. Pitt plans to move home football games to the new Steelers stadium beginning in fall 2001, assuming the University can reach a rental deal with the Steelers.

"This is the most significant opportunity since [construction of] the Cathedral of Learning, or at least since Forbes Quad," Pack said. "It is a stunning opportunity that came almost out of the blue and at little cost, no borrowing money or increasing debt service. One option was to leave the stadium and keep it for other uses: field space, recreation, the weight rooms there. But the gains were marginal to leave the stadium."

Equally fortuitous, according to Pack, is that the 10-year facilities plan spells out what Pitt wants to accomplish instead of starting from scratch when such rare opportunities arise.

"One of the things we learned over the years is the desire to distribute recreational facilities around campus, and we've done that in Lothrop [Hall], the [Litchfield] Towers, Schenley Quad," he said.

Pack also said the University plans to repair the swimming pool in Bellefield Hall for recreational use, but did not specify when or at what cost.

"Now we have the opportunity to have another major recreation facility on the stadium site. We also know we need 800 beds [for undergraduate housing]; now we can put 500 or so in the Bouquet Gardens project and the other 300 on the stadium site. In addition, we could move the convocation center off the hill and closer to campus. We could have better parking. And there are apparent cost advantages for constructing on the stadium site, with 'staging' and so forth," Pack said.

In response to questions of convocation center uses, Pack said that the programmatic plan is still in place: The center will be the home of Pitt's basketball teams, the site for commencement and other large University-related functions.

PUP committee member James DeAngelis asked, "Then there's been no thought to change the facility? Are we just sliding it down [to the new site]? The design does change, for a number of reasons, including the pedestrian flow through the interlocked recreation center and the uses to be made of the convocation center for concerts and other events," he said. "You can't start from where you are. You have to take a step back: re-program and design. If you're saying a convocation center is a convocation center is a convocation center — well, 'No, not here is,' what we're saying. The concept is different," DeAngelis said.

Spring asked if the stadium site was considered as space for fine arts or theatre, which he said are usually given short shrift at Pitt. "Maybe this committee is just asking what confluence [of uses] would make sense, if we're considering other cultural events like concerts or theatre," he said.

Pack replied that, on an urban campus, it is always an issue what facilities to replicate — cultural and athletic — from what's available in the city. "And there is the issue of cost and who would bear it. The convocation center was always to be outside of the [Educational and General] funds. It was to be [paid for by] state-money and fund-raising," he said.

"There will be a program committee established for new facilities," Pack added. "The committee is not appointed yet. And there will be some modifications to construction schedules," he said.

The PUP committee also discussed design-related ramifications of the Multi-Purpose Academic Complex and Bouquet Gardens projects in south Oakland.

According to DeAngelis, pedestrian patterns will be significantly changed when the projects are completed, and the Forbes Quadrangle/Hillman Library "patio" could become a thoroughfare or mall area.

The concept has been on the table for several years, DeAngelis said, but design plans that he's seen have ignored it. "It is even more of an issue now that the University is housing hundreds of students across South Bouquet Street in the next couple years," he said. "Having enough beds and fitting in with the [architecture of the] surrounding community — there's more to consider; that's not enough."

Spring asked, "Does it make sense, for example, to close South Bouquet between Roberto Clemente Drive and Forbes, or between Sennott Street and Forbes? I'm not advocating that. I just think it should be considered."

DeAngelis said, "I would also like to know why [these issues] haven't been considered. If anything, the concept has gotten stronger with these plans."

Pack said, "We'd like to create a more urban setting between Hillman Library and Forbes Quad." He said the area might include outdoor benches or a food court, but acknowledged no specific plans had been made.

Robert Harkins, director of Parking and Transportation Services, said his office is studying adjusted shuttle routes for the expected flow of students to the new recreation center slated for the stadium site, as well as for the South Bouquet Street area.

Pack said, "Certainly, the provost and presumably the chancellor as well want everyone to participate while we are putting these structures in place, to address the issues. We want people satisfied not only with the results but in the process. Process is critical," he said.

In other committee business, Barbara Repasi, of the registrar's office, announced that a survey will be distributed this week to faculty who teach in the 40 non-Nationality Room classrooms in the Cathedral of Learning. The survey asks faculty to rate classroom size for accommodating their enrollments, the quality of the rooms in terms of amenities and seating design, and the adequacy of instructional resources in the rooms.

The PUP committee has been examining classroom size and scheduling issues for more than a year in response to complaints of overcrowding and inaccurate capacity signage. Faculty who teach in other Pitt buildings also will be surveyed in the near future, Repasi said.

–Peter Hart

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