U construction causes obstructions for students

Jessica Thompson

The endless construction crews, signs and detours on campus might leave the University community wondering what provoked the recent boom of renovations at the University.
In 1998, the Legislature, Gov. Arne Carlson and the University agreed on a building program that allocated $760 million toward renovations, said Tim Busse, communications director for University Services.
Many of the renovations have been needed for years, but funding was unavailable, he said.
“A lot of the mechanical systems in the buildings were down, and we were hearing complaints from students and building users that there were shortcomings,” Busse said. “The buildings were tired and needed to be updated.”
University President Mark Yudof said he hopes the plan will make the University one of the top five public research institutions in the nation.
“To have a first-class institution, you not only need a first-class faculty, but you also need first-class facilities,” he said.
This sentiment has been echoed by University students, said Karen Lyons, marketing director for the Twin Cities Student Unions. For example, the push for the renovation of Coffman Union was prompted primarily by a survey of students that revealed negative results, she said.
The October 1998 survey showed 70 percent of the services and facilities students wanted were not offered at the Union.
“This was a major impetus for us to push for funding for renovations,” Lyons said.
As a result, the renovated Coffman will host many amenities such as a movie theater, an expanded food court, air conditioning, a bookstore with a coffee shop and a 24-hour computer lab.
Because the student union is a non-academic building, the renovations are not funded by the state. Many are concerned that they are paying for facilities that will not be available to them, Lyons said.
“Although these renovations will be funded primarily by student services fees, students today are only paying a small portion of the fees. It is a phased-in approach,” he said.
In addition to the Coffman construction, more than 10 other campus areas and buildings are currently being renovated, said Jennifer Schultz, a University communications specialist. Walter Library, the architecture building, Northrop Plaza, Middlebrook Hall, the Law School building, the Gortner Lab and Snyder Hall all have construction crews working around them.
Work has also begun on the Riverbend Commons area between Coffman Union and East River Road. This area will host an underground parking ramp with 1700 spaces, new student housing and improved access to the Mississippi River, Schultz said.
Many of the University’s construction projects are already completed — including renovations in Ford, Peters, Territorial, Amundson, Murphy and Jackson halls, the West Bank Plaza, the Barbara Baker Center for Dance and the Andersen Library — and the resurfacing of Washington Avenue from Church Street to Huron Boulevard, which was completed last week, Busse said.
“We stressed strongly the need for the resurfacing of Washington Avenue to be completed by the start of the school year. It would have been an absolute mess otherwise,” he said.
The Washington Avenue Bridge will remain half-painted for the school year. The project, which restricted drivers to two lanes during the summer months, will be continued next summer, according to a press release.
The renovations on campus have caused some inconvenience to students and faculty members, but Schultz encourages everyone to focus on the long-term gains.
“There are so many benefits to this construction plan that totally outweigh the hassles. The University community’s patience and acceptance are all part of the project,” she said.

Jessica Thompson welcomes comments at [email protected]