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August 29, 1996

New building, renovation plan proposed for campus

In April 1995, under instruc- tions from the Board of Trustees, Pitt's administration began a review of all construction and renovation projects requiring University funds.

Then-Chancellor J. Dennis O'Connor appointed a 15-member committee to analyze existing facilities and take a hard look at each proposed construction project, including ones previously endorsed by the administration.

This month, the University Capital Planning Committee released a draft report of its recommendations.

The report lists $361,555,000 worth of Pittsburgh campus projects that committee members say Pitt should undertake over the next 10 years.

Of the total funds, 60 percent ($215,290,000) would go toward upgrading existing facilities. Of the $146,175,000 proposed for new construction, more than half ($83,145,000) would be for student housing and recreation/athletics.

The committee rated each project as a short-term priority (to be completed, if possible, in 1-4 years), a mid-term priority (5-7 years) or a long-term priority (8-10 years).

Provost James Maher chairs the capital planning committee. He called the group's report "a 10-year plan for the Oakland campus, covering all aspects of the physical facilities of the campus — residence halls, auxiliary buildings, recreational facilities and academic buildings.

"The plan emphasizes fixing up the buildings we already own before we build any new buildings. It recognizes that adding buildings adds to our annual maintenance fees, which in turn constrains our operating budgets. So it's a very, very cost-conscious model, but it's also an aggressive model for modernizing the campus." Pitt officials say the capital plan would supersede the University's master space plan and comprehensive housing strategy, approved by the city planning commission last year. Dennis McManus, Pitt assistant vice chancellor for Governmental Relations, said the University expects little if any resistance to the capital plan from city officials or Oakland residents because the new plan is less intrusive on the community — in its emphasis on renovating existing University space over new construction, for example.

The capital planning committee recommends spending $24 million over the next four years for deferred maintenance expenses on existing Pitt buildings, plus $12 million for modernization.

Among the previously proposed projects that Maher's committee endorsed were construction of a $52 million convocation center/basketball arena and a $32.4 Multi-Purpose Academic Complex, and $52.5 million worth of additions and renovations to Hillman Library.

But the committee argued against two other projects that Pitt's administration had previously favored: construction of a College of Business Administration (CBA) building and renovating Bellefield Hall as an arts center.

Instead, the committee recommends locating CBA in existing space plus one floor of the proposed Multi-Purpose Academic Complex. The committee proposes that Pitt consider the long-term goal of spending $12.4 million to convert Bellefield Hall into a combined recreation facility and residence hall housing 75 students. For this year, the committee recommends spending $250,000 to renovate parts of Bellefield Hall as a lower campus recreation center. According to the plan, Pitt's top academic construction and renovation priorities in the next several years should be to: * Renovate the Masonic Temple to house the offices of Admissions and Financial Aid, Alumni Affairs, and Governmental Relations; the Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education (CIDDE); the Katz Graduate School of Business's Center for Executive Education; the University Library System's (ULS) labor archives (already located in the Temple) and technical services; and a large science lecture hall.

The lecture hall would replace a classroom originally proposed for Pitt's planned Multi-Purpose Academic Complex. ULS technical services would be temporary tenants until a proposed Hillman Library addition and renovation are completed.

According to the committee, CIDDE has been hindered by the fact that its staff is scattered over several sites, primarily in Hillman and in Forbes Avenue offices that would be demolished to make room for the Multi-Purpose Academic Complex. Relocating CIDDE media activities from Hillman would free space there for reader and collection use.

For Admissions, the Temple would be a cost-effective alternative to the office's current space in Bruce Hall, which the committee said is "inadequate in amount and quality" and "presents a poor image of the University." Alumni Affairs likewise would gain additional program and meeting space, while Governmental Relations could vacate its current rental space on South Craig Street.

The Katz school's Center for Executive Education would occupy one floor of the Temple, taking advantage of the building's architecturally impressive assembly rooms and its close proximity to the Holiday Inn, where visiting executives could lodge.

Estimated cost of the Temple renovations: $16 million, of which $3.2 million would be borne by the revenue-producing Center for Executive Education. Debt service for the renovations would further be reduced by moving Governmental Relations out of its current rental space and converting the Admissions office's current Bruce Hall space to student housing.

* Continue a multi-year classroom renovation project. Since 1992, Pitt has renovated 60 classrooms at a cost of $5.2 million. But many of the University's 270 remaining classrooms "are shabby in appearance, poorly lit, and lack minimal technology to support instruction," the committee wrote. The report includes a building-by-building, room-by-room description of needed renovations.

Estimated cost: at least $1 million annually for the next decade.

* Construct the Multi-Purpose Academic Complex (MPAC) planned for a site on Forbes Avenue between Oakland Avenue and Bouquet Street. The committee endorsed a previous plan to house the psychology and computer sciences departments in the new building. Space vacated by those two departments would be turned over to the departments of biological sciences, neuroscience and chemistry. One floor of MPAC would go to the College of Business Administration for administrative and faculty office space and specialized classrooms.

Estimated cost: $32.4 million. Pennsylvania, through its Operation Jump Start building project, has authorized $22.8 million in state money for MPAC.

* Renovate existing Hillman Library facilities, build an addition to the library as well as an off-campus library storage facility. Hillman Library was built in 1967 to house 1 million volumes and seat 2,000 readers. Today, the library houses 1.8 million volumes and it has been forced to remove 500 reader seats to accommodate books. Hillman's collection grows by 50,000 volumes annually, and the library has filled its storage facility at the University of Pittsburgh Applied Research Center in Harmar Township.

To begin alleviating the over-crowding, the committee recommends giving the library additional storage space at UPARC, permanently relocating CIDDE offices currently in Hillman to the Masonic Temple, and temporarily relocating University Library System technical services to the Temple.

The committee endorsed a space plan developed by the University Library System in conjunction with the architectural firm DBA Associates and library consultant Jay Lucker, director of the MIT Libraries. The three-phase plan calls for construction of a 100,000 square foot addition to Hillman, followed by a major renovation of existing facilities and then construction of an off-campus library storage facility that could house 2 million volumes (accommodating ULS growth through the year 2015).

Estimated cost: $22 million for the Hillman addition (to be completed within the next four years, under the committee's plan), $25 million for renovations and $5.5 million for the storage facility (the committee recommended completing the latter two projects five-to-seven years from now). The state has authorized $7 million in Jump Start money for Hillman renovations.

Other short-term academic building projects recommended by the committee include moving Facilities Management shops out of Benedum Hall to free up more space for the engineering school ($2.5 million), and renovating the law school's moot courtroom ($1 million), computer classrooms in Forbes Quadrangle ($500,000) and Mervis Hall classrooms ($250,000).

Other major priorities under the plan are student housing and recreation facilities.

To help Pitt compete for students, the University should offer all freshmen a four-year housing guarantee, and transfer students a two-year guarantee, according to the committee. (Currently, Pitt offers freshmen a maximum of two years of guaranteed University housing.) The committee noted that Pitt plans to spend $13 million to renovate existing dorms and dining facilities over the next four years, plus $2 million to provide computer network access from each room.

"The current number and type of undergraduate housing units will be inadequate to meet the growing demand that will result from the changes in housing policies, the improvement in residence life programming, the decreased stock of private housing in Oakland, and the anticipated growth in the undergraduate student body," the report states.

It points out, too, that a shrinking percentage of new Pitt students come from homes within commuting distance of Oakland — only 25 percent of the 1995 freshman class were from Allegheny County, compared with 42 percent in 1986. For a variety of reasons, Pitt may need as many as 1,150 additional beds a decade from now, the committee projects. But given the unpredictability of student demand for housing, the committee recommends a flexible strategy that will enable the University to respond efficiently to changes in demand.

As part of that strategy, Pitt would convert three University-owned Oakland apartment buildings into residence halls: the Forbes-Craig, Mayflower, and Oakwood apartments, capable of accommodating about 200 undergrads.

The committee also recommends that Pitt "aggressively pursue" construction of fraternity and sorority housing, financed by the Greek organizations, on University-owned land near existing fraternity housing on the hillside. "The relocation of fraternity housing from the Oakland community to the midst of the campus would benefit both the Greek organizations and the community," the report states.

With a combined additional 350 beds from converted apartments and new Greek housing, Pitt could meet its near-term housing needs, according to the committee. From that point on, Pitt would monitor changes in demand to determine when new housing construction was needed. The committee recommends that such housing be built in increments of 50 two-bedroom apartments in low-rise units up to a maximum of 800 beds. "This type of housing is most in demand by upper-division students, and should future demand for undergraduate housing slacken, could readily be converted to graduate housing." According to the committee, "The University needs a vibrant, academically oriented residential environment in order to attract a student body of the quality it desires. This means that the University must be more than a landlord to its undergraduate students. The residence halls must be effectively integrated into the academic life of the University. A number of initiatives, ranging from the establishment of living/learning centers to the identification of special interest housing, are underway to accomplish this goal." The committee recommends replacing current student resident directors with full-time professional staff, and reassigning the residence life program and budget from Housing to the Office of Student Affairs. The committee calls for ending the current policy of shutting down Pitt residence halls during the semester break, which is a hardship for international students and others requiring 12-month residency on campus.

As for graduate student housing, the committee calls for the University to work more closely with Oakland property owners and community organizations to secure quality, safe private housing for Pitt grad students.

Regarding student athletic facilities, the committee concluded that the proposed $52 million convocation center is the key for developing adequate recreational and athletic facilities here. The report states: "Although the convocation center would be used primarily for intercollegiate athletics, specifically both men's and women's basketball, its construction will free space in Fitzgerald Field House, and indirectly in Trees Hall, that could be then utilized for both recreation and other athletics programs." The report estimates the combined cost of renovating the Field House and Trees Hall at $25,750,000, but recommends dividing the projects into phases so progress can be made incrementally as funds become available.

During the next four years, the committee recommends spending: * $3.2 million on renovations and locker room construction at the Field House, largely to improve women's sports facilities and bring Pitt into compliance with Title IX requirements on equal facilities for men and women collegiate athletes.

* $1.4 million to install lights at the baseball field and construct outdoor playing fields at a site immediately adjacent to the baseball field and Towerview Parking Garage.

* $960,000 to renovate the Cost Sports Center.

* $250,000 to renovate Bellefield Hall athletic facilities.

* An additional $5.5 million, all to be privately raised, would go toward the next phase of Pitt Stadium renovations.

n Funding the $361,555,000 total cost of the capital plan would require nearly tripling Pitt's current annual debt service of $8,330,000. "The extent of the [financial] impact is sobering," the report concludes, "but the projects that are contained in the capital plan are necessary if the University is to have in place the facilities required by its students and faculty." Ultimately, the plan will require Board of Trustees approval — and even after that, Pitt would be required to present each construction proposal to the City Planning Commission for a conditional use application. Such applications in turn go to City Council and the Mayor's office for final approval.

On Aug. 5, Pitt administrators publicly unveiled the capital report at a meeting of the Oakland Community Council, a coalition of 10 neighborhood groups. McManus of Pitt's Governmental Relations office said University officials plan to discuss the report at other community meetings.

As for Pitt's own in-house approval process, Provost Maher already has won support for the capital plan from the University Planning and Budgeting Committee (UPBC), a group of faculty, staff and students who advise the senior administration on budget and long-range planning issues. UPBC unanimously endorsed the plan last month.

University Senate President Keith McDuffie, who serves on UPBC, said he supports the capital plan and will give at least a verbal report on it at the Sept. 3 Faculty Assembly meeting. "I hope that, at least in an overall sense, the Assembly and Senate Council will endorse the document. This University needs to move forward, and I believe this plan is a reasonably good blueprint for doing so. We've been standing still for the last five or six years, and we can't afford to dilly-dally much longer." Maher said he hopes to get approval of the plan from Senate groups, the Staff Association Council and other campus advisory organizations within the next several weeks. "I don't want to take away any group's right to study this and make an informed judgment and give its best advice," he said. "But I also feel pressure to get this through the system as fast as possible — not to hurry anyone, but because the University has been on hold for so long. I think it's to everyone's advantage if we can build up momentum on fixing our problems, both fundraising problems and physical facility problems." –Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 29 Issue 1

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