Construction engulfs U; frustration abounds

by Sam Kean

No, the University didn’t get bombed. Just tolerate the crater-sized mudpits, closed roads and building skeletons because it’s all for your benefit. Eventually.

At any one time, the University has 400 to 500 construction projects ongoing. Students never notice many of them – replacing windows, installing water sprinklers or upgrading utility lines – and most of these projects don’t disrupt the campus.

But it’s hard not to notice the doozies. Walter Library on Northrop Mall has been surrounded by fences for more than a year. Construction for the new women’s hockey stadium/tennis facility has swallowed two whole blocks behind Mariucci Arena. The new Coffman Student Union won’t open until at least October 2002. In all, Facilities Management is overseeing 37 projects that will disrupt or displace students, staff or faculty in some way between now and the end of summer.

Incoming students are luckier than current students. Many major construction projects are slated to be finished before new students will graduate. They’ll have cleaner, greener memories when they leave than current upperclassmen.

However, like all construction projects, University ones have a way of bloating as the years pass.

The rain this summer hasn’t helped. Facilities Management assistant director Priscilla Meckley said soggy weather has caused some delays. But, she added, most projects have a built-in “float” time to account for small setbacks and the vast majority of projects are finished on time.

Still, delays inevitably arise. Parking on campus will presently be tighter. Headaches will pile up because there’s more construction now than in the past – and there is more on the way.

The University will soon break ground for a new arts building on the West Bank. Sanford Hall will be getting a dining hall addition this fall, and the St.Paul campus will welcome two plant genomics projects by September.

A few years ago, the state Legislature allotted the University hundreds of millions of dollars for construction. But it had to use it within a few years, which explains the current construction boom.

The results are all around. New buildings are springing up, old ones are being hollowed for renovation and wings are being added to dorms – which means if you live in Middlebrook or Frontier, don’t be surprised to hear pangs of construction early in the morning.

The University has a vision of what the campus will look like: a mix of stately and sleek buildings with enough dorms so no students are forced to live in a hotel for the first months of the year. In time, projects will finish, the University will run out of space to expand, and the campus will be calm and efficient.

But that time is not now.


Sam Kean encourages comments at [email protected]